Creating great schools is a team sport


By Joe Peel
Guest Columnist

Sunday, December 2, 2018

This past weekend I watched the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game. Both schools came into the game ranked in the top 10 and had much celebrated quarterbacks.

It quickly became apparent that Ohio State would win, not because one quarterback was better than the other but because the Michigan quarterback never really had a chance to demonstrate his skill. It was their teammates who made the difference in the game, not the quarterbacks themselves.

The same can be said of hiring a new schools superintendent. We may find and hire a highly skilled individual but if that person is not surrounded by an equally strong supporting team they will never be able to be successful.

So who must be a part of this team? Well obviously the central office staff, the principals and of course the teachers. The person hired as superintendent must be skilled in developing this team, but these team members must also demonstrate the responsibility to be open to new ideas and learning — in short, they must be willing to embrace change. These team members will ensure the quick failure of any new leader without their openness to new ideas.

Another component of this team must be the elected officials who are charged with the duty of creating a high-performing school district — our school board and county commissioners. These team members have several responsibilities.

First and foremost, they must establish across the community their belief in the worth of every single child in this county. Another way to state this is that they must believe that every child can learn. Several times over the last five years I have been in meetings at which a former superintendent or school board members have stated, when questioned about the quality of our schools, something to the effect: “What do you expect with the children we have?” This attitude maintains the status quo and sentences our children to failure! The new superintendent will need team members who understand that poor performing schools are an adult problem, not a child problem.

Secondly, these team members must be willing to demonstrate courage when faced with tough decisions. For example, what I hear when talking with teachers in our district is that some of our schools have lost their learning environments — the children are out of control. If this is true, a new superintendent will not be able to address this issue without the strong support of these team members. They must also have the courage to engage the community in conversations around the resources needed to build strong schools.

A final component of this team is all of us. As a community we must demand quality schools, not only for the sake of our children but also for the continued health and vibrancy of our community. We need new jobs and more economic growth, both of which are directly tied to the quality of our public schools.

In 1992 I was hired as the superintendent of the Elizabeth City Pasquotank Public Schools. If most of the team I described above had not been here and ready to improve their schools, I would never have accepted the job. Together we completed over $52 million in school construction projects and dramatically improved the academic performance of our schools. Creating great schools is a team sport!

Joe Peel is a former mayor of Elizabeth City and former superintendent of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.