When I began at Locke High School, it was clearly a failing school, with management hunkered down in the besieged posture I mentioned yesterday; this reaction, symptom IX in yesterday's list, is a consequence of symptom II, the fact that failing traditional public schools rotate principals very frequently (by my fourth year at Locke, we had already had effectively five principals). Given this precarious job security, what is a principal in a failing school to do?
Principals in our traditional public schools are in a particularly bad spot in this case because so many of the avenues available to their colleagues in private and chartered schools are shut off to them. Professor William G. Ouchi captures this memorably in Making Schools Work (page 112): "The sense of abandonment is so great in Los Angeles that three of the principals we interviewed cried during the interview as they poured out their intense feelings of loneliness and frustration."
In his newer book, The Secret of TSL*, Ouchi, cofounder of the UCLA School Management Program, summarizes what more empowered principals should do to improve their schools (16):
"If there is any vital job for a principal, it is precisely to control the major instructional variables of budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and professional development. Those are the levers through which the instructional leader of a school, the principal, can build a great school by attracting, developing, and retaining strong teachers."