In the end, the apparent quality of the staff isn't the crucial element in building a great school. Leadership is. The ability to choose staff when starting a new school just makes the excellence happen faster.
When I share my ideas with other leaders who are struggling to improve their own organizations, I am often asked, "Well, Dr. Monroe, suppose I don't have such a dedicated staff. How can I make positive changes happen?" I think the answer involves several important points.
First, if you are working in a dispirited or ineffective organization, realize that you as leader will have to be the first staff person to believe that quality and excellence are possible with the staff you have. Change must begin with you.
I've seen this principle operating in several places. When I was a kid in Harlem, I attended P.S. 157 on 126th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. The principal at that time was a shadow person, a woman who mostly remained in her office, unseen and unknown. The school's real leader, though unofficial and I'm sure underpaid, was James Cooper—a tall, handsome, imperial, well-dressed African-American man. He ran everything—assemblies, guest speakers, appearances of the gospel choir, and the student government. He was wonderfully warm and strict, a benevolent terrorist. I learned many things from Mr. Cooper: that structure was a fine and helpful thing; that African-Americans have always contributed to American society; that gospel music can save your soul; that Robert's Rules of Order govern meetings; and that setting high expectations and teaching kids to reach them is the job of any educator. But above all I learned from him the importance of the leader—the visibility, mobility, and inspiration of the leader—in making any organization work. That's the key lesson, I think, for anyone who wants to start a school that can do what the Frederick Douglass Academy does.
Pub date: 03/19/99
Price: $14.95/17.50 Canada
Selling Territory: WORLD EXCL UK AND COMMONWEALTH EXCL NEW ZEALAND
Pub history: Times Books hc