June 26, 2018

Tommy Chang’s Departure & the Challenge of being a Leader Today.


Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang resigned suddenly on Monday, June 25, after a lawsuit was brought against Boston Public Schools alleging that school officials shared student information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that led to deportation.

According to CNN, the lawsuit was brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and it alleges that the Boston Public Schools shared information that led to the deportation of a student with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), following a disciplinary issue at school.

While Chang’s resignation is supported by Boston Mayor, Martin Walsh this sudden action shows how quickly the tides can turn against anyone in a leadership position today.

Being a leader in today’s schools is an incredible challenge. Americans expect our leaders to be perfect: superhuman beings who make magic happen while never suffering from any personal or political blowback.

Tommy Chang was the head of a school system responsible for effectively educating 56,000 students in a time of higher standards, tighter budgets, increasing political pressure, and ever-changing demographics.

The Boston Herald wrote that finding someone who could successfully run Boston’s public school system was “impossible.” But, Chang will take the hit for the mistakes under his leadership, and his resignation will allow Mayor Walsh to handpick someone to come in and “clean up.” (Again.)

Schools are “high-stakes” for educational leaders. Education is now a numbers game that is driven by big data. And most of our schools are not measuring up.

It’s so much easier if there is someone to blame.

School leaders enter the field to make a difference. And urban educators are passionate about wanting to make a difference for some of the most underserved children in our country. But, education has changed dramatically in the past several years, and today’s leaders have to be more politically savvy than ever.

I have spent the past 25 years as a teacher and administrator, 20 of which were in urban education, and the challenges that school leaders are facing today make the job an uphill battle on a good day.

Superintendent Chang’s resignation is just another example of how school systems are increasingly held accountable for so much more than the education of its students: they are at the center of the political turmoil that is impacting us all.

You might wonder why the resignation of this one superintendent matters to you—especially if you do not live in Boston.

School leaders all over the country are feeling the political pressure—whether it is about redistricting or shrinking enrollment or finding resources for refugee families or homework policies. If school leaders feel like they can no longer make decisions based on what is right for children they serve, and instead feel like they have to make decisions based on the political climate, then we have lost the purpose of education.

We need school leaders who are strong enough to be outspoken, who are not afraid to do what is right for children, and who are able to have difficult conversations and give difficult feedback. We must stand up and fight for the leaders who are willing to fight for our children.

Instead of looking for school leaders who are superhuman politicians, we should be looking for super passionate educators who are caring, compassionate, and committed—who can make mistakes and take ownership for those mistakes and who can show us what it looks like to have grace under pressure.

That’s a leader we can all look up to.

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