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Priorities and Practices of Effective Rural Superintendents

Seven effective rural superintendents in Michigan shared three common leadership priorities: a clear belief that students will be academically successful; demonstrable efforts to put high-quality teachers in classrooms; and creativity in creating resources to address needs, according to a new study.

"Leadership Practices of Effective Rural Superintendents: Connections to Waters and Marzano's Leadership Correlates" looked at the practices and priorities of seven successful superintendents. The priorities were their goals, and their practices were the methods used to achieve those.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education, and its authors were Mark Forner, Louann Bierlein-Palmer, and Patricia Reeves, all of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The study used improved students' test scores to identify the superintendents, and they asked the superintendent, a high school principal, a teacher and a board of trustee member in each district to describe the superintendents' actions that helped make schools successful. The following practices were the most commonly cited:

1. The superintendent establishes goals and expectations and drives reform in the district.
2. Support for reform was built through direct, personal conversations.
3. Intervention strategies are provided for struggling students and teachers.
4. Low-performing teachers or principals are removed.
5. The close working relationship with the building principal is leveraged.
6. Superintendent takes a harder line in union contract negotiations.
7. The district re-aligns financial commitments to match district priorities.

The authors noted their study has implications for other rural superintendents, specifically that leaders need to build support for meaningful academic improvement one conversation at a time, and that they should focus on a limited number of priorities. They also said these superintendents were aware of the "brain drain" concern and fought the perception that improving academics would force bright students to leave.

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