Top School Administrators Share 5 Insights in 2023

Throughout 2023, K-12 Dive interviewed a range of school and district leaders to discuss their successful strategies, challenges, and lessons learned. As we approach the new year, let’s reflect on those conversations and highlight five key takeaways.

Visibility and consistency are vital

Deborah Wortham
Permission granted by Deborah Wortham
 

“It is crucial to have student voice, community involvement, and teacher input. When various groups engage in conversations and provide feedback through surveys, it emphasizes the importance of ensuring that our students, teachers, and parents are respected and heard. And, of course, all decisions are guided by board policies.”

“Additionally, stamina is crucial. We cannot change curricula or shift beliefs every year. We must stay committed to our long-term goals.”

– Deborah Wortham, superintendent of Roosevelt Union Free School District in New York

You can’t underestimate the power of communication

Michael Lubelfeld
Permission granted by Michael Lubelfeld
 

“As we were wrapping up the school year, everything seemed calm and peaceful. COVID protocols were nearly behind us, and we were looking forward to an enjoyable summer. Highland Park has an annual Independence Day parade organized by the park district and the city. It’s a festive event. However, something unexpected happened – a mass shooting. A violent incident occurred, involving a masked gunman who wasn’t immediately apprehended. With only six weeks until the start of the school year, we had no time to catch our breath. We had to ask ourselves, ‘Now what?’ We responded by prioritizing communication. We used various channels, including email, videos, audio, podcasts, and board meetings. By communicating consistently, we kept our community informed.”

– Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of North Shore School District 112 in Illinois

Consider local economic realities in negotiations

Alberto Carvalho
Permission granted by Los Angeles Unified School District
 

“The most important advice is to prepare your budget. Negotiating contracts may require going beyond your comfort zone, especially considering the local economic conditions in your community. You must also find ways to generate the necessary revenue to implement these contracts. Start by assessing the need, evaluating the local economic conditions, and determining what can realistically be achieved. Then, reorganize, realign resources, protect schools, reduce bureaucracy, and restructure old debt. These efforts allowed us to provide a substantial 21% salary increase over four years for our teachers, along with additional benefits for support staff.”

– Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District

Superintendents can contribute to local economic growth

Justin Jennings
Permission granted by Youngstown City School District
 

“When our students become successful and pursue higher education, they often choose not to return to Youngstown due to poverty and the perception of limited opportunities. This is detrimental to our economy and the city, as these students can contribute positively to our community. Our goal is to create an environment that encourages them to return. Even for students who don’t attend college, we need to explore local industries that offer skilled jobs and provide training opportunities, allowing young graduates to have a future in our city.”

– Justin Jennings, superintendent of Youngstown City School District in Ohio

Find common ground to gain community support

Verletta White
Permission granted by Roanoke City Public Schools
 

“To identify pain points and address weaknesses, we must listen to our community first. Commitment to active listening helps us recognize and connect shared strengths and weaknesses within our school district. By making these connections, we can move forward collectively, effectively addressing the challenges we face. Shared struggles unite us, providing the momentum needed for positive change.”

– Verletta White, superintendent of Roanoke City Public Schools in Virginia

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