One Good Idea

Give Public Schools Two Principals

This illustration can only be used with the Molly Mirhashem piece that originally ran in the 4/25/2015 issue of National Journal magazine.
James O'Brien
Molly Mirhashem
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Molly Mirhashem
April 24, 2015, 1 a.m.

Lisa Belzberg, an ad­junct pro­fess­or at Columbia Uni­versity’s School of In­ter­na­tion­al and Pub­lic Af­fairs, has an idea for re­struc­tur­ing pub­lic schools: Di­vide up the prin­cip­al’s job in­to two roles, so that one per­son is in charge of edu­ca­tion and one is in charge of busi­ness. I re­cently spoke with Belzberg — who foun­ded the edu­ca­tion non­profit PEN­CIL, which pro­motes links between busi­nesses and schools — about her pro­pos­al. Our con­ver­sa­tion has been ed­ited and con­densed.

— Molly Mirhashem

Can you ex­plain your idea?

There has been a move in pub­lic-school gov­ernance to­ward de­cent­ral­iz­a­tion: giv­ing a lot of con­trol to in­di­vidu­al prin­cipals. This gives many prin­cipals the re­spons­ib­il­ity to de­vel­op and man­age their own budgets. I be­lieve that pub­lic schools should be op­er­ated more like the good charter schools: Good charter schools are run by two people. There is someone who’s in charge of the edu­ca­tion­al as­pects of the school, and someone in charge of op­er­a­tions. And you have to make sure that the in­struc­tion­al head and the busi­ness man­ager are hired as a team of sorts and are viewed as code­pend­ent part­ners with equal status.

(Il­lus­tra­tion by James O’Bri­en)What spe­cif­ic prob­lem does your idea ad­dress?

Too of­ten our school lead­ers are not trained to be busi­ness man­agers. They are may­ors of small cit­ies in a way. They have to deal with all sorts of is­sues, such as bus­ing, food ser­vices, health and wel­fare, and ab­sent­ee­ism of teach­ers and stu­dents. They have so many is­sues, and they’re not ac­tu­ally trained any­where to deal with them. If you’re a teach­er who gets bumped up to be prin­cip­al be­cause you’re a great teach­er, that doesn’t be­gin to give you the skill set you need. So this gets the edu­cat­or back in­to the classroom and then brings in someone who’s ac­tu­ally trained to be a real busi­ness man­ager. And there’s a very healthy ten­sion between the two.

What do you mean by “healthy ten­sion”?

The edu­cat­or’s role is al­ways to spend more time, money, and en­ergy on pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment. A good prin­cip­al wants it to be as broad of a com­munity school as it can be, with as many wrap-around ser­vices as it can have. And then you have a busi­ness per­son who says: “We can’t man­age that, be­cause we don’t have the budget for that. We have to fig­ure out how to pri­or­it­ize our money.” And: “I’m sorry you can’t have all of those things. Here are the things I think we can have now.” I love the idea of one be­ing the dream­er, and the oth­er say­ing, “I love your dreams, and here are the ones we can ful­fill now.”

Are there any down­sides to this idea that should be con­sidered?

You have to make sure people aren’t up­set that there’s money be­ing spent on ex­tra ad­min­is­trat­ive po­s­i­tions, which could take away from in­struc­tion­al re­sources. That has to be made up some­how, so there’s no re­sent­ment. And you really have to define roles and re­spons­ib­il­it­ies clearly with the two people.

Is this an idea that’s already float­ing around? What needs to be done to raise more aware­ness of it?

It’s float­ing around a little bit, for sure. If you have a prin­cip­al from a pub­lic school go in to look at a charter, they’ll say, “Oh boy, if only I had that per­son — what I could do with my teach­ers.” So you have it per­col­at­ing from be­low and from the out­side a bit, too. I think there are many steps that can be taken to bring it to the next level. One step is to high­light that it is one of many reas­ons why good charter schools are suc­cess­ful. Also, busi­ness schools should cre­ate both reg­u­lar and ex­ec­ut­ive MBA pro­grams spe­cific­ally tailored to those skills and com­pet­en­cies needed in budget­ing and run­ning a uni­on­ized, mul­ti­fa­ceted pub­lic school. Oth­er steps would in­clude part­ner­ing with in­nov­a­tion labs at busi­ness schools, get­ting busi­ness schools to sign on, and get­ting found­a­tions to pay for it.

How would this be im­ple­men­ted?

I’m a big be­liev­er in start­ing something small, show­ing that it works, and then im­ple­ment­ing it on a lar­ger scale. So it wouldn’t need to be a policy that man­dated that every city did this. Once you see the dif­fer­ence in a few schools, you build a few more un­til you get a crit­ic­al mass.

What We're Following See More »
KIM CALLS TRUMP A “DOTARD”
North Korea Threatens H-Bomb Test Over Pacific
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"North Korea said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the reclusive country, with leader Kim Jong Un promising to make Trump pay dearly for his threats. Kim did not specify what action he would take against the United States or Trump, whom he called a 'mentally deranged U.S. dotard' in the latest bout of insults the two leaders have traded in recent weeks."

Source:
INFORMS CONGRESS RE: EXECUTIVE ORDER
Trump Makes Good on Promise of New North Korea Sanctions
3 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump this afternoon announced another round of sanctions on North Korea, calling the regime "a continuing threat." The executive order, which Trump relayed to Congress, bans any ship or plane that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States within 180 days. The order also authorizes sanctions on any financial institution doing business with North Korea, and permits the secretaries of State and the Treasury to sanction any person involved in trading with North Korea, operating a port there, or involved in a variety of industries there.

SOUTH KOREA WILL SEND AID
Trump Promises More Sanctions on North Korea
3 days ago
THE LATEST

In response to a reporter's question, President Trump said "he’ll be looking to impose further financial penalties on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic tests. ... The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation." Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that South Korea's unification ministry is sending an $8m aid package aimed at infants and pregnant women in North Korea. The "humanitarian gesture [is] at odds with calls by Japan and the US for unwavering economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang."

Source:
HIGHLIGHT ISSUES FACING KIDS
FLOTUS to Speak at UN Luncheon
4 days ago
THE LATEST
PRESSES CASE FOR REFORMS
Trump Meets with UN Leaders
4 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump on Tuesday night met with UN Secretary Guterres and President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak. In both cases, as per releases from the White House, Trump pressed them on the need to reform the UN bureaucracy.

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login