America’s schools, like its best companies, need CEOs. Here’s why

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 21, 2014

principal-300x214Jean Desravines, chief executive officer of an American nonprofit that focuses on developing transformational school leaders, believes that high school principals are CEOs and should be regarded as such.

Why not, I suppose, considering even a country can now presume to have a CEO (Afghanistan indeed).

But Mr Desravines seems to suggest that it’s more important for a school to have a CEO than any other entity. In a passionate piece for OZY, Mr Desravines argues that America should make the same sort of effort to retain school principals as a Fortune 500 company would to hold on to its CEO.

The school principal-CEO “is ultimately on the hook for delivering a ‘product’ that will profoundly impact the trajectory of our country,” he writes. “Just like CEOs, principals work strategically to hire the right staff, cultivate effective managers at all levels of their organization, ensure staff are supported and held accountable for results, create systems to promote efficient operations, and cultivate a positive culture focused on their vision for success.”

Mr Desravines, who’s pretty CEO-like himself (his Forbes Impact30 thumbsketch puts him at 40 years and managing his organization’s $40-million budget) has a point. A good CEO is worth their weight in gold. And the market would simply be unable to bear the volatility and loss of direction if, say a hundred Fortune 500 CEOs left their roles this summer for various reasons.

But that’s what happens at American high schools every year. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that more than 18,000 principals – 20 per cent of US public schools – will either change schools or leave the profession this year. Most of these transitions will happen in schools that serve low-income or coloured students, says Desravines.

With profound implications for those schools and their students.

Anyone who remembers a great teacher from their schooldays, empowered and led by a strong, visionary headmaster or mistress, will know the truth of this.