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Learning From the Best

Learning From the Best
Lessons From Award-Winning Superintendents

Edited by:

Foreword by Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators


February 2009 | 192 pages | Corwin

Published in Association with American Association of School Administrators

Leadership Solutions

"Provides a rare opportunity to get inside the heads of the best superintendents in the country. Harris' book captures essential craft knowledge that every superintendent needs to succeed in the job."
—Robert S. McCord, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"An excellent book for experienced and new superintendents. I kept coming across little nuggets and big ideas that I couldn't wait to implement immediately."
—Janie L. Nusser, Superintendent
South Seneca Central School District, NY

Words of wisdom for achieving effective district leadership!

In today's challenging educational environment, superintendents need proven strategies that will help them lead their schools and districts successfully. This topical resource offers a collection of proven best practices from award-winning superintendents.

Representing school districts with diverse populations, school sizes, and communities, 22 current and former superintendents from around the country detail in their own words the practices that have been central to their professional and districtwide success. Readers can learn from the wisdom and experience of these outstanding leaders on topics such as:

  • Transformational leadership that provides direction for the district
  • Community building, outreach, and effective partnerships
  • Responding to changing times, changing standards, and student needs
  • Developing strategies for overcoming barriers to effective reform

Learning From the Best is a valuable resource for new and experienced superintendents seeking to steer their districts through today's most pressing educational issues.

Foreword, by Daniel A. Domenech
About the Author
1. Introduction
Role of the Superintendent  
Qualifications for the Superintendency  
Purpose of This Book  
2. Leadership That Transforms Schools
Leadership Sets Direction by Communicating and Collaborating, John Morton  
Leadership Sets Direction by Staying the Course, Robert Olsen  
Leadership Sets Direction by Involving the Community in Visioning, Patrick Russo  
Leadership Redesigns the Organization by Identifying the Culture of the District, James L. Hager  
Leadership Redesigns the Organization Through Instructional Leadership, Robert Olsen  
Leadership Redefines the Organization by Reducing District Health Care Costs, Ronald D. Valenti  
Leadership Develops People Through Servant Leadership, Thomas Leahy  
Leadership Develops People Through the Power of Collaboration, Robert Olsen  
Leadership Develops People Through Implementing Book Clubs, Krista Parent  
Leadership That Develops People Is Important, Gary Johnson  
Leadership Reflection  
Additional Resources  
3. Community Building
Building Relationships With the Board of Education, John Morton  
School Board: Team of Eight Training, Chuck Holt  
Everyone Is Important, Robert Olsen  
Creating a Professional Learning Community, Brian Knutson  
Building Community: Three Key Elements and Four Steps to Implement, Thomas Little  
Communicating and Collaborating Within the District Takes Effort, Paul Kinder  
Building Trust in the Community at Every Level, Brenda Dietrich  
Leading by Example, John Morton  
Reaching Out to the Larger Community, Robert Olsen  
The Expanding Role of Community, John Morton  
Maintaining Quality Media Relationships, Mark Keen  
Building Community by Developing Cost-Effective Partnerships, Robert E. Nicks  
Community Building Reflection  
Additional Resources  
4. Changing Times
The Changing Nature of Today's Superintendency, Robert Olsen  
Servant Leaders Build Relationships in Changing Times, Pauline Hargrove  
Changing Times Emphasize a Need for Civic Education, Brenda Dietrich  
Preparing Young People for a Global Community, Michael McGill  
Ten Strengths of Resilient Superintendents in Changing Times, Jerry L. Patterson and Diane E. Reed  
Changing Times Reflection  
Additional Resources  
5. School Reform
The Achievement Gap: What Are WE Going to Do About It? Brenda Dietrich  
Achievement Gap Challenges: Special Education and LEP, Robert Olsen  
Closing the Achievement Gap, Chuck Holt  
School Reform Strategy: Dropout Recovery, Daniel King  
School Reform Strategy: Educational Summit for Evaluation, George A. Goens  
School Reform Strategy: Using Research to Reform Schools, Brenda Dietrich  
School Reform Strategy: Evaluate School Programs, Chuck Holt  
Overcoming School Reform Barriers: Ask "What Doesn’t Make Sense?" George A. Goens  
Overcoming School Reform Barriers: Organizational Inertia, Robert Olsen  
Overcoming School Reform Barriers: Three Suggestions, Brenda Dietrich  
Overcoming School Reform Barriers: Learn to Live With NCLB, Robert Olsen  
School Reform Reflection  
Additional Resources  
6. More Creative Ideas That Work
Guidelines, Practices, and Words of Advice, Pauline Hargrove  
Advice for New Superintendents, Brenda Dietrich  
John Morton’s Top Ten List of General Advice, John Morton  
Feedback Is Important, Brenda Dietrich  
Doing the Right Thing…, Robert Olsen  
Moving From Leading a Small District to a Large District, Daniel King  
Passing a Bond, Tony J. Marchio  
Collaborative Tips for a Successful Budget, Ronald D. Valenti  
Books Every Superintendent Should Read  
Words of Wisdom  
Additional Resources  
7. Superintendents Change the World of a Child
Student Learning Results in Successful Schools  
People Are More Important Than Programs  
We Is More Important Than Me  
Changing a Student's World  
References and Further Reading

"The vignettes offer readers a clear picture of the processes used in each successful initiative. These tips are invaluable tools that superintendents can apply to improve their own craft. The resources provide a plethora of ideas and ways to extend knowledge. The book is filled with wonderful strategies and stories to learn from."

Cathleen J. Chamberlain, Assistant Superintendent
Oswego City School District, NY

"Superintendents are often on an island of their own because they are the only superintendent in a district. This book offers practical ideas and strategies for some of the decisions we each have to make. A great reference for the beginner as well as the veteran superintendent."

Elizabeth J. Lolli, Superintendent
Monroe Local School District, OH

"An excellent book for experienced and new superintendents. I kept coming across little nuggets and big ideas that I couldn’t wait to implement immediately."

Janie L. Nusser, Superintendent
South Seneca Central School District, NY

"Provides a rare opportunity to get inside the heads of the best superintendents in the country. Harris' book captures essential craft knowledge that every superintendent needs to succeed in the job."

Robert S. McCord, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“Harris does a nice job of blending the experiences shared with research and suggestions for implementation. She pulled in many great contributors and applied their wisdom to a variety of situations. I came away with some great ideas.”

Carol J. Lark, Superintendent
Douglas County School District, Minden, NV

"This volume advances our knowledge in a crucial area that has been understudied and under-reported: the actual work of superintendents. Here in superintendents' own words, we learn how they put theory into practice as they face a multitude of daily challenges."

Paul Kelleher, Professor of Educational Leadership
Trinity University

"I feel like this book is taking me right into the offices of leaders all around the country, and I love it. It's rare when you can find a book that makes you feel like you really know the people you're reading about. Honestly, I think I could call each person and they would be willing to help my district (and me) improve in so many ways. Thanks for helping me build a unique team that helps me keep the laser-focus on improving student achievement."

Crockett DuBose, Chief of Staff
Galena Park ISD, Houston, TX
Key features
  • Hands-on tips that work from award-winning superintendents
  • A collection of ideas for new, transferring, and veteran superintendents

Sample Materials & Chapters


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ISBN: 9781412959841