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Leading Schools with Vision: Partnership Superintendent Featured by Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Recently, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper featured a reflection from Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee entitled “Leading Schools with Vision in a Time of Change.” In it, Kathleen shares:

At Partnership Schools, we believe that one thing that separates effective turnaround efforts from failed experiments is the ability of the leader to articulate a clear, coherent, and actionable vision for change. While talk of “leading with vision” may conjure up eye-roll-inducing images of vapid or vague mission statements or empty platitudes, it’s actually a critical (and sometimes under-valued) piece of the school improvement puzzle. That’s because without a clear vision—one that can be succinctly explained to faculty, staff, and parents and one that is informed by data, grounded in programs that have a proven track record of success, and supported by effective professional development and coaching—turnaround plans are easily derailed, undermined, or simply too vague to drive real, lasting results.

Partnership Schools, of which I’m superintendent, is a network of nine urban Catholic schools serving more than 2,300 students in New York and Cleveland. As we prepared to welcome students back for the new school year, we gathered our school leaders to reflect on what leading with vision means, especially in the face of the challenges our communities continue to face in this pandemic.

For us, leading with vision is more than an aspirational pep talk. It has significant implications for how we function as a network—and for the work of each principal, dean, and operations leader at our schools. As a school management organization, we have a strong model, shared curriculum, common pacing guides and expectations, and shared systems for functions like tuition. But we also have an ethos that tends to eschew mere compliance. We are not a network driven by a common sense of “command and control,” but rather a sense of “this is our why.”

In practice, that means that steering a Partnership School involves more than charismatic leadership or compliance-focused implementation. Rather, it asks three things of all leaders:

  1. Knowing your “why.”
  2. Mastering your “what.”
  3. Leading with conviction.

To read more of Kathleen’s explanation of how Partnership Schools frames these three expectations, see the full Flypaper article here.