Superintendent, Kenosha Unified School District, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Create a vision and recognize the importance of constantly reinforcing with the community.
When I began as Superintendent of the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) in July 2010, the District’s Vision and Mission were six years old. They had served KUSD well, but it was time for a change. Through a number of community focus groups and almost 200 school visits, I found the people who were ready to meet the challenge of creating a new Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals for the District. The outcomes gave the entire community a breath of fresh air, but it became very obvious that without an ongoing awareness of these outcomes, the hours of hard work would have been lost. It was key for the District to stay on message in all of our communications in order to continually remind community residents of what we needed to do in order to have a successful school system.
Be willing to listen to opposing voices.
Being the superintendent of a public school system is one of the most difficult jobs. The average tenure of a superintendent is around three years. One of the major reasons for this short period of time is because of the many people a superintendent must answer to. It’s not just the Board of Education. Also included are parents, teachers, staff, community members, and so on, and without a doubt, each individual or group has a different opinion. I’ve learned I cannot please everyone—that is impossible! I can, however, listen to people and try to understand their point of view, and why they think the way they do. My way is not always the right way. By listening to others I have learned to appreciate where my ideas have merit, and where they sometimes lack the diversity necessary to make many, rather than just a few, feel included.
Consider and plan for long-term viability of the organization.
It became obvious from the beginning of my tenure as Superintendent of the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) that the financial state of the District needed serious attention. With the assistance of many District staff and community members, a three-year Transformation Plan was created and adopted. Student achievement, collaborative partnerships, and securing necessary resources became the foundation upon which we were going to build a school system for the 21st century. Of particular concern was the financial side of the equation. The District’s Fund Balance had diminished to an insufficient and dangerous level. We instituted zero-based budgeting, and in my second year, this was coupled with a district-wide Budget Council. While not completely fixed, our balance sheet is moving in the right direction. Our projection is we will be in a much better position within the next three years, which will benefit the school District as a whole, and most importantly, our children.
Be resourceful when making tough decisions.
I have learned the best resources I have are the people I work with. I have empowered them to think, be responsible, and realize they have an important role in everything the School District does today and in the future. I have given my Leadership Council authority, respect and expectations. I have learned I can help in solving problems, but I must not take the responsibility away from those who are, in the end, totally responsible. I must recognize when someone needs some assistance, but I do not make them feel as though I do not have confidence in them. I have not been afraid to be resourceful by bringing outside experts into the District to work with my staff, and to ensure they do not feel as though I have lost confidence in them, I model the importance of outside help by bringing in people who I can learn from, and who can help me in making some of the very difficult decisions.
We must model and reinforce the proclaimed values of the organization.
Visiting the staff, administrators, teachers, and students in our schools is probably one of the most important things I do. If fact, because I have learned how valuable it is, visiting a school is typically how I start each day. I am not doing it to “spy” on my staff; quite to the contrary. I am doing it to reinforce the importance I place on our values. These visits give me the opportunity to demonstrate that I care and that I believe in what we have all agreed to do in order to educate our children. Further, the primary purpose of our professional learning program must be to model and reinforce our values. Our District is transforming in some very significant ways. If I don’t model our values, how can I expect the District’s staff to do so? We must all use the same GPS, and it must be set on the same values.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Dr. Michele Hancock is the 14th Superintendent of Schools of Kenosha Unified School District. As Superintendent, Dr. Hancock oversees the third largest Wisconsin school district, with a student population of over 23,000 and 42 schools.
Earlier this year, Dr. Hancock became the first recipient of the Annual Change Leader Award presented by the National Principals Leadership Institute. The award recognizes an educational leader who has facilitated significant change at the school and school district levels. As Dr. Lew Smith, Executive Director of the National Principals Leadership Institute said, “…Dr. Hancock has proven that ‘change’ is more than a slogan, deeper than a passing fad, and marked by challenges and joy. Real change, significant change, transformational change requires a Change Leader. Dr. Hancock exemplifies that leadership.”
After teaching in the Chicago Public School District for ten years, Dr. Hancock and her family moved to Rochester, N.Y. where she began as a teacher. She then served as a teacher leader, curriculum specialist, literacy specialist, assistant principal of a middle school and an elementary school principal. In that position she lead the transformation of the lowest performing K-6 elementary school to national prominence for culture change and student achievement. The school was also included on the “New York State Most Improved” list. Dr. Hancock then became chief of diversity and leadership/professional development and later chief of human capital initiatives. In that position she was responsible for an eight million dollar human resources budget.
She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois, her Master’s Degree in Education from National Louis University, Administrative Certificate from Oswego State University, and her Doctor of Education Degree in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College in Rochester (NY).
She has presented at national conferences on topics such as “Preparing Urban Teacher Leaders: Sustaining School Improvement”, “Effective Leadership for Urban Schools”, and “What Successful Urban Elementary Schools Know and Do!”