Read the article as it appeared on the Real Clear Education website.
As the school year gets underway, there is an important group of leaders also starting a new job: school district superintendents. This year, a particularly large number of districts are welcoming new chief executives – from Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento in California to Detroit and Cincinnati in the Midwest to Washington D.C., Hartford and Newark (later this year) in the Northeast.
The first few months of a new superintendent’s tenure offer a unique opportunity to inspire and initiate change. But even in the best cases, incoming district leaders commonly miss out on their biggest opportunity for near-term impact and building momentum: their first budget.
A new leader typically invests significant time in conducting a "listening tour," documenting findings and beginning to develop a strategic plan. This person must also ensure a smooth start to the school year, find some visible “quick wins” and assess – and potentially rebuild – the senior leadership team. As the fall begins, the 2018-19 budget process will quickly get underway. This requires new leaders to move fast to influence strategic decisions about resource use – or risk losing two full years of potential progress toward system transformation.
It may seem counterintuitive to act quickly on next year’s budget while still engaging in a listening tour and early strategy development – activities that require authentic humility and patience. But moving boldly to shape the next year’s budget can help establish positive norms and relationships by accomplishing the following:
In a world where the average tenure of a big-city superintendent is less than four years, the new superintendent must capitalize on his or her first budget cycle to ensure resources are allocated optimally to drive performance improvement. By supplementing the honest inquiry, listening and relationship development required for long-term impact with a deep focus on meaningful change in the first full-year budget, the smart superintendent creates a true “flywheel effect” – one that spurs powerful positive momentum across the district and helps establish the superintendent as a bold and forward-looking leader.