The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee was facing a common challenge in education -- lots of its best people were retiring and there weren’t enough qualified people in the district to fill the leadership positions opening up. This practical challenge prompted the district to look inward and take steps to develop existing talent with an eye to the future. What started as a desperate need became a concerted emphasis on increasing leadership capacity at all levels of the district and has led to remarkable growth in student achievement by extension.
“We’ve tried to establish opportunities for people to gain knowledge of leadership, no matter where they are in the organization,” said Dr. B.J. Worthington, director of schools for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. The training program the district uses includes 21 leadership responsibilities based in research on effective leadership tactics compiled by McREL International.
“When we first started balanced leadership, there was this idea that leadership responsibilities were on the instructional side,” said Dr. Susan Jones, the district’s professional development coordinator. But district leaders have made it clear to every department -- from human resources to instructional coaches to the business department -- that the principles apply in every context. “Once we got to that understanding then we are all speaking the same language,” she said.
Worthington and Jones have tried to honor the capacity in every person to be a leader by actively inviting anyone who wants to get leadership training to do so. The early trainings include workshops on how the district is organized, how its operations work and how an individual can be effective within that system. The goal is to empower staff with knowledge, helping them to see the complex workings of the district not as an opaque and confusing process, but as an open system that they can influence. The district also offers more advanced leadership training, like an "Aspiring Administrator Academy" that teachers must be recommended for by their principals.
Clarkesville-Montgomery’s focus on leadership is an attempt at change from the inside out. No state-level administrator told them they had to improve the leadership qualities of its employees, but Worthington was tired of top-down initiatives that never seemed to take hold at the school level. He thought if the central office could build the capacity of its school site leaders, teachers, coaches, area leaders and so on, not only would they have a homegrown pipeline of qualified people, but there would be more ownership over creating positive change in each building.