Successful School Leadership: A Conversation with an “America’s Best High Schools” Principal – Part 3 of 4

So far, our blog series on successful school leadership has covered leadership within a school and school leadership as it relates to educating diverse groups of students. In part three of our conversation, we discuss the accountability of educational leaders.


Accountability: Every school is unique in its own right; however, schools share special challenges and opportunities that require effective responses from educational leaders. One such example may be with policies designed to hold schools more accountable. Leadership practices that help schools succeed when they confront various forms of accountability mechanisms may include:

– Creating and sustaining a competitive school.

– Empowering others to make significant decisions.

– Providing instructional guidance.

– Strategic planning.


In the case of University High School (UHS), providing instructional guidance and empowering others to make significant decisions are accountability tools highly regarded by UHS leadership. An example of this is shown as Galen Hunsicker, professor of zoology at Vanguard University for 20 years and currently a science teacher at UHS, points to three main practices that have had the greatest impact on teachers and staff:

  1. An open door policy and giving the teachers a “heads up” regarding upcoming issues or events.
  2. Continuous positive support for effective teaching strategies through summer reading (Teach Like a Champion) and regular, thought-provoking articles sent via email.
  3. Having confidence in the staff’s professionalism and streamlining issues to save teachers time in doing what they do best: TEACH. The UHS administration excels at this! “For example, two years ago during WASC accreditation, our UHS leadership developed focus groups each with an effective teacher leading the discussion,” Galen explained. “Near the end of this process, the leaders of these groups came together to hash out our action plan, which was circulated for editing by any teacher, and released as a final hard copy. We all felt great about our input, time management, and our individual value. At no time was there a sense of a top-down style or a central controller. We all had a voice, all of us were important, and as a result, I believe we became more cohesive and more aware of who we really are.”

Galen went on to say that all UHS administration leads with vision, but they also guide and engage… not micromanage. “In my 42 years of teaching at over a dozen colleges and two high schools, University High School is a unique place, for I have never been in such an organized, positive, and uplifting environment.”


We know that school leadership is most successful when it is focused on teaching and learning, but there is still much more to learn about the essentials of quality leadership, how to harness its benefits, and how to ensure that there is a holistic approach to placing good leaders into bad systems so that they are able to contribute and enrich in a way that is meaningful rather than having a system that will tear down even the best of them.

But leadership goes beyond just teachers and principals. Schools exist within a district, and effective leadership must occur through networked interactions in which schools and districts work cooperatively towards a common goal. School leaders cannot effectively change their poli­cies, programs, and practices without “permission” from their districts. A district’s specific actions impact schools and their capacity to implement school change and attain higher standards.


We’d love to hear examples of accountability from your teachers up through the district!

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