First impressions make a lasting impact. As a newly appointed superintendent, chancellor or CEO of a school system, how you spend your first days sets the tone for your values as a leader.
Will you be visiting schools with students, talking to educators and listening to parent concerns? Will you kick-off an internal listening tour to learn from your new team and staff? Or perhaps spending time with your board, local leaders and other community representatives is where you will begin?
Whether you are a seasoned superintendent going to a new district, a CEO leading a school system or new to the leadership role, one of the most important tools in your early days will be a thoughtfully crafted entry plan.
Keep in mind, there isn’t one “right way” to approach your entry planning as a superintendent or CEO — context matters. Every school system is unique, which means every entry plan should uniquely fit that school community. However, there are some best practices that other leaders can learn from and modify as it applies to their school system.
For example, most leaders have a 90 or 100-day entry plan. Setting a time frame can help to guide you during this initial introductory phase and also helps to hold yourself accountable for any goals you may set. Richmond Public Schools’ superintendent, Jason Kamras, completed 30 commitments he outlined in his 100-day plan focused on engagement, equity and excellence. Overall, know that the exact time period for your entry plan depends. Things that are urgent may need to move quicker. Other things may take more time beyond the 90 or 100 days to create sustainable impact.
Another common practice, most leaders start their superintendencies with a listening and learning phase. This can help you learn more about your schools, your communities and the people you serve. This is also an opportunity to learn what is working and where there are areas for growth. In Brevard County, Dr. Desmond Blackburn spent his first five months as superintendent traveling around his district getting to know the people he served. Make sure to include diverse voices, by looking for opportunities to spend time with and listen to those who may not always be the loudest or obvious voices historically. Also, make sure to include both internal and external stakeholders in your conversations, including students, teachers, principals, parents, key community leaders, central office team members and support staff. As part of Paymon Rouhanifard’s 100-day listening tour, he not only held community town halls and smaller focus groups with parents, students and staff – he also placed suggestion boxes at every school collecting feedback from hundreds of teachers across Camden City Public Schools, highlighting the results to his advisory board. With that in mind, the exact voices may be different from district to district, so make sure to tailor your list of key participants to fit your school community.
Aside from those key school community members, another important group for any school leader is their board of education, board of trustees or other governance structure. Developing a strong relationship with your school board will establish a strong working relationship moving forward. Know their priorities, share yours with them and build norms to work together effectively. With equity as one of his three pillars in his 100-day plan, Jason Kamras walked the Richmond Slave Trail with his family and the school board coming together on this important core educational value.
As you learn about your workplace, spend time understanding the culture, teams, structures, key operations and budgets. This will help provide insight into the working environment and the day-to-day operations. While some things like the budget may be accessible even before your first day, other things like the culture of the organization may take more time to assess. Dr. Tommy Chang in Boston Public Schools focused one of the five values set forth in his 100-day plan solely on building a “Culture of We” to empower and unite students, staff, families and the community together.
Lastly, as important as your entry plan is — it is only the beginning. The years of follow through and “doing the work” will be your legacy of impact.
Along with the examples highlighted above, there are a variety of other resources on this topic. Here are a few that we’ve found helpful across different contexts:
- The Record: Deasy takes lead at SUSD, releases transition plan
- Guilford County Schools – Soar to Greatness: Entry Plan for Superintendent Sharon Contreras
- Desmond Blackburn’s Tips for Listening and Learning Tour
- Vincent Matthews in San Francisco Unified School District – First 90 Day Listening and Learning Report
- SF Examiner: “My first 90 days at SFUSD” by Vincent Matthews
- The First 90 Days in Government by Peter H. Daly, Michael Watkins and Cate Reavis
- Letter to a Newly Appointed CEO by McKinsey’s Ian Davis
Over the last 15 years, The Broad Academy has helped strengthen the abilities of school system leaders across the nation to lead and grow high-performing organizations.
Phuong Vuong is a senior director on the Alumni and Network Impact team.