Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

Petersburg Rising – now available to Educators nationwide

Award-Winning Documentary, Petersburg Rising, the remarkable true story of transforming one of the lowest-performing school districts, is now available to Educators nationwide.

The film highlights a successful approach to overcoming crisis, generational cycles of failure and  systematic challenges to equitable education.

Petersburg Rising, a “must-see” film from Producer and Award-winning Author Alan Blankstein (Failure Is Not an Option), is a testament to the impact of courageous leadership, equitable education, and a community, that against all odds, came to believe there are no “throwaway” kids, only kids being “thrown away.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Marcus Newsome, nationally commended for solutions in closing achievement gaps, the Petersburg school district reversed decades of neglect to achieve accreditation for all of its schools.  The film tells the story through the struggles and triumphs of three students throughout their senior year, humanizing the political discourse about the crisis faced by professionals in education, and revealing how courageous leadership and community engagement in collective impact overcame mistrust, conflict and educator burnout to provide improved and equitable education for all their students.

Produced by Alan Blankstein, in association with Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Sam Pollard (Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crosswords, Blood Brother: Malcom X and Muhammad Ali and MLK/FBI) and Alice Elliott, Executive Consultant and Academy Award winning writer, director, producer (The Collector of Bedford Street, Miracle on 42nd Street) Petersburg Rising is now available for educational licensing through Video Project.  

The film is now being used in professional development with Dr. Marcus Newsome and Alan Blankstein to catalyze cohesive and collective action to address post-Covid learning issues and assure student and educator success in districts and states nationwide.  

Petersburg Rising is our collective moment to “rise up,” celebrate, and expand the wins.

For More information

Donate – Petersburg Rising – Short Film Documentary (onecause.com)

License/Purchase – https://www.videoproject.org/petersburg-rising.html

Further Information – https://www.petersburgrising.com


AASA on Courageous and Uplifting Leadership – Part One

(the following is an excerpt from a forthcoming issue of The School Administrator.  See AASA.org)

It was Monday morning and the middle school had flooded over the weekend. Told it would take two weeks to reopen, the superintendent quickly moved this crisis to the top of his growing list that already included keeping lights on, making payroll, building teachers’ capacity to deliver engaging and rigorous instruction, and meeting state requirements for school improvement in a school district that ranked last in the state.

Yet Marcus Newsome, the new superintendent of the Petersburg, Va., City Public Schools, was smiling this morning during the city partnership meeting that convened top leaders from the state, city and school district. Toward the end of the meeting, Newsome shared, “I’m happy to report that the predicted two-week closing of our middle school didn’t happen. It opened on time this Monday morning! I’d shared with everyone at the school  that we needed ‘all hands on deck,’ and they made it happen.” Newsome publicly acknowledged the school’s janitor and other staff members who had taken the lead in ensuring the school opened on time. He also sent each a personal thank-you.

In the past, Petersburg staff would have responded differently to a crisis. This time there was a significant change. It began with a courageous leader — a leader who runs toward, not away from challenges.

A Time for Courage

Throughout history, leaders as diverse as Aristotle, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. have pointed to courage — a word derived from the French root word “le Coeur” or “heart” — as the most important of all virtues. This brand of leadership is not based on self-promotion or ego, but on sacrificing for the greater good, which in public education includes promoting inclusiveness, and equity for all children.

Effective leaders use the five principles of courageous leadership to “face the facts and their fears” and address challenges head-on. When these principles guide the work, the efforts build trust and  are more likely sustainable district wide.

No. 1: Get to Your Core.

Friedrich Nietzche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” With school board politics, resistance to meeting diverse students’ needs, and punitive financial and accountability measures serving as distractors from educating our children, we must be rooted in a personal connection to why we are advocating for children each day. The more personal the connection, the more steadfast will be our effort.

Every successful superintendent has a way to stay connected to this core. Aaron Spence, superintendent of the 67,000-student Virginia Beach City School system, reminds himself daily of his personal connection to helping all children and make sure they get the best education possible. He watches prospective principals walk through the building to see if they talk with students and teachers. Did they notice what was happening in the school? Did they connect directly with the students? He makes expectations clear, like the importance of knowing the names of the children who are struggling.

Amy Sichel, superintendent of the 8,000-student Abington School District in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs, celebrates schools’ successes with the students “to stay focused on the small wins vs. the big downs” that poor policy delivers. Sichel is personally energized by her ability to have influence beyond Abington by mentoring incoming professionals to leave a legacy and “keep public education alive.”

The daily routine of Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Schools, includes praying, working out and staying connected to his own children and to his colleagues and the district’s 112,000 students. Letting go of the negative interactions and starting each day with a blank slate helps sustain positive energy. As Dance explains, “Most parent complaints are about the role I’m playing — not about me personally.”

When leaders have a core connection to the work, they are optimistic about meeting “insurmountable” challenges. Maintaining this attitude is essential to courageous leadership. As Newsome states, “Each one of us has the ability to set the temperature for the room. It’s important to come in daily with the brightest of views in the toughest of times: We are leaders; others feed off us, and if we aren’t optimistic, they don’t stand a chance.”

For the outline of all five courageous leadership principles and the complete article, see AASA.org

Copy Right © 2017 America Association School Administrators

AASA on Courageous and Uplifting Leadership – Part Two

(the following is an excerpt from a forthcoming issue of The School Administrator.  See AASA.org)

Part 2: Face the facts and your fears.

Data reflecting poor performance, especially among subgroups, often become the catalyst to action. In Abington, Pa., the data showing gaps between the majority of the student body and minority and special education students compelled district leaders to ask whether being a good district was enough. In North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, with its 147,000 students, Superintendent Ann Clark used data indicating wide gaps in reading proficiency to galvanize the schools and the community to change course.

Courageous leaders don’t use data as a weapon but rather as a tool for improvement. They don’t leverage fear to achieve greater results, but focus on how to collectively face the challenge and become mutually supportive and accountable for meeting the needs of students. The goal is improving the action, not punishing the actor.

Awash in data, courageous leaders focus on making data manageable, meaningful, and a catalyst for improvement. Sichel uses what she terms “getting results teams.” They are building-based, mixed groups that analyze student results, select focus areas of concern, develop a specific action plan and prepare progress reports for her toward continuous student achievement.

AASA on Courageous and Uplifting Leadership – Part Three

(the following is an excerpt from a forthcoming issue of The School Administrator.  See AASA.org)

No. 3: Make organizational meaning.

The best school districts choose an overarching strategy for improvement rooted in their stakeholders’ core beliefs and vision, a clear-eyed analysis of the internal facts and external research, and a coherent way forward.

The strategy for the high-performing Abington district was to open Advanced Placement classes to all students while providing low-performing groups with the necessary supports to succeed. The plan for closing gaps between schools in Charlotte-Mecklenberg was strategic staffing in which high-performing principals and a select leadership team moved to the lowest-performing schools via a plan designed by those who were doing the actual work. It has since become a badge of honor to be chosen to lead a low-performing school in that district.

No. 4: Ensure constancy and consistency of focus.

The greatest challenges to success for every student in America are the issues surrounding policies that promote one child over another and punish educators for being ill-equipped to address the multiple and increasingly serious problems students bring to school.

Even in the toughest circumstances, someone in each district is succeeding with the same students that others are failing. Cyndee Blount, chief academic officer in the Petersburg schools, uses several strategies to build a process that enhances trust, communication and cohesion around instruction.

  • Principal partners. Recently retired principals from a high-performing neighboring district were recruited as partners and mentors for each Petersburg principal. The retirees, selected based on a history of success in schools with similar populations, demographics and/or instructional needs, work to build the instructional capacity of the leaders and teachers. They support the principal with everything, including developing the school improvement plan, providing professional development and joining the principal in teacher observations, followed by debriefing, reflection and collaborative decision making.
  • Instructional leadership. A shift in the perception of the building principal from manager to instructional leader was necessary to convey the urgency of improving daily instruction. Blount and instructional teams in Charlotte-Mecklenberg built professional development toolkits that included presentations, talking points, engaging activities and instructional look-fors to use in walkthroughs. Principals, along with building-level instructional leaders, received the training first, then delivered the presentations to teachers and over subsequent weeks provided increasingly intensive feedback using a common protocol during walkthroughs.
  • Central office as support for schools. Staff in the district office collaborate on and monitor each school improvement plan. Blount and a central-office team meet monthly with site leaders to enhance the “X Factor” – to expedite physical resources and expedite human resources. Real-time support boosts trust, morale and results.

Courageous leaders promote a culture that addresses the diversity of needs their students bring with them to school. They use student voices to inform their plans and the students themselves to help implement and evaluate them and to galvanize the community and influence key policymakers. Courageous leaders often act as buffers, taking on the external politics so their staff can concentrate on teaching and learning.