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May 2010: Change builds a better future

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

We recently announced the reassignment of about two dozen APS principals and assistant principals as well as the consolidation of a few leadership roles. Change is never easy. It can be unsettling, stressful, even scary. But I believe change is necessary if we want to move our schools from "Good to Great."

That's the title of a book that has influenced my style of management. You may have heard me quote author Jim Collins, who found through his research that good-to-great leaders get "the right people on the bus ... and the right people in the right seats."

As a large organization, one of the largest in Albuquerque, APS is blessed to have lots of good people aboard our bus. Now it's time to get them in the right seats and on the road to greatness.

I know all too well just how challenging change can be. Two years ago, after spending my entire career in the Midwest, I drove across the country to take the job as APS superintendent. It was an intimidating move, but a good one; one of the best I've made professionally. And I'm a better superintendent, a better leader, as a result.

That's what usually happens with change. That's what I expect will happen as a result of the principal changes we just made. There are different reasons for each of the moves, but the big picture is one of growth and improvement. These principals, and their staffs, will have an opportunity to view their schools through a new lens. They'll immediately benefit from their predecessors' hard work, and they'll be able to build upon those successes. Still, they'll be challenged to come up with fresh ideas and new approaches. They'll develop new relationships, set new goals, and support and learn from each other as well as from their communities and, yes, their students. All of this supports the ultimate goal of improving student achievement and providing our kids with every opportunity to succeed in life.

APS is doing what other large organizations do when looking to improve. Any sports fan knows that teams seek out new coaches and players to help them improve their standings. They also look to build deep benches that they can turn to when their starters need a break or the team needs fresh legs.

APS has at times sought the input of community committees when choosing principals — we did so, for example, a couple of years ago at Manzano High. I'm sure we'll seek public input again in the future. However, as superintendent, I am the one who sees the big picture, and at the end of the day I will be the one held accountable. So, with input from my associate superintendents at each school level, I made the final decision as to who should go where, and I accept full responsibility for that decision.

The principal reassignments are the latest in many changes we've made since I became superintendent — all in an effort to move our schools from good to great. We got rid of the cluster bureaucracy, moved our budgeting system from school-based to district-based, became more transparent in our operations, sought the community's input through numerous public forums, set target goals for student achievement, put proven programs such as AVID and Small Learning Communities in our schools to help with college preparation and improve graduation rates, sought to make our campuses safer and worked on improving our facilities — which we are able to do thanks to voter support of the bond and mill levies.

You should expect more changes to come as we strive to continue making improvements. As Collins writes, "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice."

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