Leading urban schools takes more than leadership skills: A study about how school leaders' resilience can affect student achievement
Michelle N Pierre-Farid, University of Pennsylvania
The U.S. education system has endured intense scrutiny over the past few years due to poor American student performance on international exams. As part of that scrutiny, school leadership has been under review. Research has been undertaken to determine the characteristics a school leader must possess in order to improve schools. Principal training programs focus on those key skills that principals must exhibit in order to improve schools. There has been little research, however, on what it may take psychologically to improve urban schools. Under normal circumstances a principal must address issues surrounding students, parents, teachers, facilities, and No Child Left Behind requirements; however, urban school leaders also have to deal with crime, poverty, disparity among students in educational backgrounds and their diminished desire to learn. In addition, many critics question whether learning about being a leader can prepare individuals to withstand the adversity a principal faces on a consistent basis. ^ This dissertation presents findings from a qualitative study on how the psychological effects of an urban school can affect the school leader's ability to manage a school and how those effects ultimately change the outcome for students, including academic achievement. The study utilizes a case study approach of five principals in large urban districts with data collected via interviews and observations. To expand perspective on leadership resilience, interviews were conducted with leadership coaches as well. The data revealed the extensive challenges these urban principals deal with on a regular basis and how their resilience allows them to stay optimistic during dire times, which in turn creates opportunities for principals to be focused on student achievement. The study also revealed key stressors for principals that can impede them from being effective instructional leaders, and showed what types of support might need to be in place in order to build resilience. The findings can help school districts and higher education institutions think critically about the types of people needed to lead particularly challenging schools and how they can best support them through ongoing principal training and support. ^
Education, Leadership|Psychology, Social
Pierre-Farid, Michelle N, "Leading urban schools takes more than leadership skills: A study about how school leaders' resilience can affect student achievement" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3530058.
Since November 21, 2012
In mid-June, while the General Assembly was adopting the Cleveland Schools Reform Plan into law, the school district was quietly hiring in a charter school specialist to the top academic position in the district — and from another controversial school district.
Michelle Pierre-Farid arrives in Cleveland via Washington D.C. where she spent four years as an elementary school principal before (fortuitously, it might seem) leaving to become principal and Chief Academic Officer of the Friendship Public Charter Schools for another four-year stretch (ending June, 2011). Since 2010, Pierre-Farid reports that she has been the Executive Director the D.C. Team for New Leaders for New Schools, an organization whose founders include a former Teach for America corps member and an education reform “expert” specializing in charter schools. We are unable to find any information to clarify the overlap of the 2010-2011 school year (as listed on Pierre-Farid’s Linkedin profile), so any overlap in job duties or compensation would be pure speculation.
Additionally, we are unable to verify what type of teaching or administrative license Pierre-Farid has, if any, though the Ohio Department of Education does not have anything on file as of the writing of this post. Pierre-Farid does not list any teaching experience in her work history and was only 26 years old when she obtained her first job as a principal at Tyler ES in the D.C. Public Schools.
Tyler Elementary School has a predominantly black student population and Pierre-Farid appears to have had some success in increasing student test scores, especially in reading. As seen below, after a dip in her second year, the scores skyrocketed, with reading scores improving by over nearly five times in just two years. That figure is even more outstanding when put into the context of all D.C. Public Schools whose scores were declining significantly over the same time period.
Excellent. The students at Tyler did experience a drop in the following year after Pierre-Farid’s departure, but rebounded briefly before dropping off the proverbial cliff while the district’s scores stayed consistent.
Whatever Pierre-Farid did while she was running Tyler ES apparently had no lasting effect on student test scores.
Pierre-Farid catapulted this success into a job with the Friendship Public Charter Schools as the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) and principal at Southeast Elementary School (for a 2 year period). During that brief stay, Pierre-Farid was again able to lead the school to previously unseen test results in both math and reading.
Yet again, however, the scores dropped upon her departure from the building (though to be fair, we’re not sure what type of lasting impact should be expected after such a brief reign).
Her next position had Pierre-Farid overseeing all seven Friendship Charter Public Schools (FCPS) in the D.C. area as CAO of the organization. The Friendship charter organization also has four schools in Baltimore. [Humorous side note — the FCPS has sixteen individuals on the Board of Trustees, more than the total number of administrators in their schools combined.]
While Pierre-Farid obviously has very few years of experience to be promoted to such an important position in a large urban district undergoing major change, it’s important to point out that six of her ten total years have had her involved with the promotion of charter schools, either through direct employment or through her work with New Leaders as the DC team’s executive director. From the New Leaders website:
As part of our core work training New Leaders, and with the support of the New Schools Venture Fund, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the Washington D.C. Public Charter School Board, we have spearheaded a groundbreaking charter school initiative that creates a pipeline of leaders trained specifically for the charter sector.
If we needed any more proof that the focus in Cleveland is on expanding the role of charter schools, the hiring of Michelle Pierre-Farid should be enough. You don’t hire someone into the second- or third-highest academic position (we still can’t figure out if CEO Eric Gordon or Mayor Frank Jackson is in charge, though if forced to bet, our money would be on the latter) who is so light on practical, district-level experience unless they have a specific expertise that you seek. In this case, Pierre-Farid can only point to short-term school improvement in two (stretching it) building-level instances and six years of working in a small charter school organization.
We hope she knows what she’s getting into and wasn’t just jumping at the nearly $200,o00 base salary they offered. To explain that we’ll probably need to talk to CEO Gordon and Mayor Jackson, though it’s our understanding that any and all communications must be submitted in the form of legislation. Let’s wrap this up with a proper welcome, shall we?
Welcome to Ohio, Michelle N. Pierre-Farid. We christen thee Chief Academic Officer, Cleveland Public Charter School District.