Reading & Resources

School Administrator, June 2020

Book Reviews
100-Day Leaders: Turning Short-Term Wins into Long-Term Success in Schools
by Douglas Reeves and Robert Eaker, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2019, 168 pp., $26.95 Softcover

100-Day Leaders: Turning Short-Term Wins into Long-Term Success in Schools by Douglas Reeves, founder of Creative Leadership Solutions, and Robert Eaker, Middle State Tennessee University professor emeritus, formats commonly held principles of change leadership and school improvement into a “user manual” of sorts, for school leaders responsible for ensuring that all students achieve to their fullest potential. Reeves and Eaker make the complex challenges of education practical and manageable.

 The primary concept is that the big ideas must be pared down to actionable chunks that spur innovation in real-time improvement cycles. 

The book features a few key points, such as fidelity to the professional learning communities process, alignment of organizational priorities, and the importance of focusing on student work and evidence of learning. 

While this seems to be stating the obvious, most people who have taken up the challenge of learning for all would likely agree that when schools and districts fall down, it is due to a lack of fidelity to these basic concepts. 100-Day Leaders gives practical tips in each area to help leaders ensure commitment to the process. 

This is particularly evident in chapter four, “A Strong Foundation.” Among the statements that resonated for me were these: “The leader must deliberatively and systematically organize and embed collaborative expectations;” “Team leaders need explicit direction;,” and, “Because common formative assessments are so powerful, 100-day leaders do not leave their use to chance.” The takeaway is that PLCs can be incredibly impactful, but they also can be relatively ineffectual if people do not understand the principles of collaboration or model expectations, if SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals are ambiguous, expectations are unclear, and, perhaps, most importantly, if they are not supervised properly.

The epilogue by the authors  is a moving and fitting ending invoking the higher calling of the work, and the appendix includes materials to guide the development of 100-day plans and rubrics to support implementation. 100-Day Leaders would a valuable resource to principals looking to build the collective capacity of teams and ensure high quality PLCs in schools and districts.

Reviewed by David Moyer, superintendent, Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205, Elmhurst, Ill. 

Step In, Step Up: Empowering Women for the School Leadership Journey
by Jane A. G. Kise and Barbara K. Watterson,
Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2019, 256 pp., $39.95 softcover

Step In, Step Up: Empowering Women for the School Leadership Journey by education consultants Jane A.G. Kise and Barbara K. Watterson provides an insight to its readers on some of the challenges women leaders experience in the workplace. The authors offer readers a balance between academic research and recent statistics on the lack of current representation of female leaders in our school systems. Quotes from scholars and best-selling authors serve as anchors for different chapters, inspiring readers to ponder and engage in further reflection. 

Written in a format that can be used as a book study guide, the book is filled with stories from women leaders on how they have navigated certain challenges in school leadership. Some describe the difficulties and lessons learned throughout their leadership journey, providing wisdom on how to deal with issues such as; impostor syndrome, gaining confidence, and overcoming gender barriers in the workplace. At the end of every chapter, Kise and Watterson provide readers with actionable strategies and reflection steps that can be completed individually or as a group.

The authors provide wisdom, guiding questions, and short exercises that will challenge female leaders at any level to be intentional about leading with courage. Step In, Step Up will take readers on a journey where female leaders will assess their emotional awareness, self- worth, relationship management, decision making style, and more. A book that can be read multiple times, it is built as a guide to grow yourself and others starting the school leadership journey. 

Reviewed by Lynmara Colon, director of English learner programs and services, Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, Va.

Committing to the Culture: How Leaders Can Create and Sustain Positive Schools
by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2019, 114 pp. with index, $22.95 softcover

Building an effective school culture is every superintendent’s goal. In Committing to the Culture: How Leaders Can Create and Sustain Positive Schools, a follow-up to their two previous books on school culture, professors Steve Gruenert of Indiana State University and Todd Whitaker of the University of Missouri unpack the components of culture, explain how toxic cultures come about in schools and describe how to build positive cultures based on trust, collaboration and commitment.

The authors use an analogy of a motion picture to describe the many roles that individuals might play in a school. The actors change, but the roles are always present. A major part of a leader’s job is to shift the narrative (the movie script) that determines how the educators (the actors) react to each other and to the events that occur in a school (the subplots).

This could involve changing the script to reduce toxic teachers’ influence and increasing the parts of more promising actors (the next generation of stars), fostering collaboration to commit to a different vision (plot), finding common ground with the “guardians of the past” (some of the school’s current and fading stars) and building trust among educators and with the school’s stakeholders (the movie patrons). 

This book probably contains little that most superintendents have not heard before. It could be most useful to assign as a book study for principals or to be given to a new leader for in-person or online mentoring by a superintendent.

Reviewed by Ronald S. Thomas, interim chair, Instructional Leadership and Professional Development Department, Towson University, Baltimore, Md.

Ready for Anything: Four Touchstones for Future-Focused Learning
by Suzette Lovely,
Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2020, 108 pp. with index, $31.95 softcover

Suzette Lovely, former superintendent in Carlsbad, Calif., provides insights to educators on how to refine current educational practices to help students best prepare for their futures. In Ready for Anything: Four Touchstones For Future-Focused Learning, Lovely identifies these four areas as: Innovative practices, strength-based culture, personalized learning experiences, and collaboration with the outside as a means for teachers and administrators to refocus learning with student curiosity to prepare them for the world of work.

In the introduction, Lovely quotes architect Buckminster Fuller by stating, “You can’t change things by fighting the existing system. Rather to change something, you need to build models that make existing models obsolete.” Her book is designed to help educators become the Buckminster Fuller of their craft by creating a picture of what a future-ready learner needs to be successful in the 21st century. 

Lovely takes educators on a journey of understanding the 21st-century challenges that will impact students’ lives and suggests ways to create learning experiences that will engage students in 21st-century thinking.  She also encourages educators to reflect on their current practices and to understand why our craft needs to be improved to impact these new learners.

The chapters of the book are based on the four touchstones that provide educators with practical shifts to align their thinking based on learning rather than teaching. Each chapter is summarized with points to ponder and tools to implement strategies.  After reading this book, school administrators will be able to begin the conversations about forward-thinking and learning with staff. 

Reviewed by Christopher Brewer, assistant superintendent for educational programs, Rome City School District, Rome, N.Y.


Civility Lost: The Media, Politics and Education
by George A. Goens,
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 150 pp. with index, $30 hardcover 

America’s history is filled with examples of societal tensions that are intensified when uncivil behaviors emerge as the norm. From the president to social media-savvy citizens, civility seems in short supply. In Civility Lost: The Media, Politics and Education, former superintendent and author George A. Goens explores the powerful linkage between an educated citizenry and civil discourse in a robust democracy.

Goens calls upon citizens and leaders to navigate the current turbulence by understanding our history and citizenship duties. In Civility Lost, he identifies the virtues, values and ethics that inform civil behavior in a democracy. He affirms that “citizens in America are stewards of their country and its integrity.”  This stewardship, Goens says, begins and ends with each individual citizen. 

Because educators are called upon to play a significant role in the formation of an educated citizenry, Goens notes that educators “must balance education for citizenship and educating people to meet their individual ambitions.”  Importantly, Civility Lost outlines concepts and strategies educators and school leaders can build into their work to model effective citizenship and prepare others, especially young people, for their citizenship role. 

School leaders, teachers and the culture of their classrooms provide the place and the tools for young people to understand information, analyze its impact and formulate conclusions. Building a strong, well equipped citizenry requires modeling by all citizens, especially educators. This book outlines actions and approaches that the school system and its leaders can use to model integrity, courage and civility for students and others in their communities.

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel, leadership consultant and retired superintendent, Redmond, Wash. 

The Aspiring Principal: 50 Critical Questions for New and Future Leaders 
by Baruti Kafele,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va. 2019, 99 pp., $22.95 softcover

The Aspiring Principal: 50 Critical Questions for New and Future Leaders, written by consultant and former principal, Baruti Kafele, encourages reflective practice and provides guidance to new leaders.

The most compelling questions in the book, which superintendents may find helpful in coaching new and aspiring leaders, are those related to one’s impact in leading a school. For example, Kafele asks, “How will I demonstrate that my school is better because I lead it?” In routinely asking oneself this question, the author acknowledges the impact and accountability a principal has in ensuring equity and excellence for all students. With each critical question, Kafele provides guidance related to effective practices and insights from his personal experiences. 

The Aspiring Principal offers a unique perspective in that it addresses both the leadership and management aspects of the principalship. It speaks to some of the more challenging equity and cultural work, as well as some of the more technical aspects of the job, like transportation and maintenance. The casual storytelling narrative highlights the tremendous variation and tenuous nature of both the routine tasks and ongoing challenges of school leadership. 

Reviewed by Mary B. Herrmann, clinical associate professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Soft Skills for Leaders: Scenarios from Higher Education Administrators
by Wanda S. Maulding Green and Edward E. Leonard,
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2019, second edition, 131 pp. with index, $20 softcover

In their book The Soft Skills of Leadership: Navigating with Confidence and Humility, authors Wanda S. Maulding Green and Edward E. Leonard identify the soft skills a leader must possess: credibility, competence, inspires others with his/her vision, and applies his/her emotional intelligence. While the technical skills that leaders need to have emerge (for example, the use of social media), the soft skills remain the same. 

Confidence tempered with humility is necessary in order to be a highly effective leader. The Soft Skills of Leadership is an essential read for leaders. It provides a model of leadership and focuses on these fundamental soft traits and presents research in a practical manner. The authors refer to a lifetime of leadership as a journey from being an aspirational leader to ultimately being a highly seasoned leader. 

During this journey they focus on how critical self-reflection and feedback are for leaders to continue to learn and grow in these five essential soft leadership skills. The ultimate goal is to be a highly effective leader who is credible, competent, inspires others with his/her vision and applies his/her emotional intelligence and soft skills to full advantage for the success of his/her organization. 

The authors use the analogy of leadership being a road trip on which you are using a GPS system. For example, sometimes when new maps are loaded, the GPS is slower to respond. This is an effective analogy regarding a person’s journey on becoming a successful, experienced administrator and how one is constantly honing his/her soft skills of leadership. This book gives every leader the tools necessary to grow and lead a successful organization in today’s constantly changing world. 

Reviewed by Diane E. Reed, associate professor and chair of Graduate Educational Leadership Program, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y. 
An Education Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: How Radical Changes Can Spark Student Excitement and Success
by Yong Zhao, Trina E. Emler, Anthony Snethen, and Danqing Yin, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2019, 149 pp. with index, $90 hardcover, $29.95 softcover

Educators often bemoan the structure of school systems rooted in the needs of the Industrial Age that do not adequately meet the needs of 21st century students. Standardization, rigid curriculum, and mandated assessments perpetuate this industrial approach to education. In An Education Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste, Professor Yong Zhao and colleagues from the University of Kansas encourage transformational change by sharing research and providing relevant examples of “radical” change to demonstrate it is possible to transform schools.

These authors have visited schools around the world and are familiar with the reasons offered for why transformation is prohibitive. They describe this as the “yes, but…” barrier. Instead, the authors suggest transformation can begin when one acknowledges the obstacles and responds with “yes, and….”

The book provides examples of transformation led by students and teachers in different types of schools. It then describes transformational change that occurred at the school level and through a united network of schools. Once again, these examples cover a variety of schools with different student populations to emphasize that transformation is possible everywhere.

As noted in the concluding chapter, “In moments of crisis, individuals and organizations can choose to maintain and defend what is known and feels safe or they can rise above the crisis to forge new paths.” This book will inspire the reader to embrace change, and the examples provided demonstrate what can be done by an individual or group at any level of an organization.

This book is not intended to be a blueprint to follow, but rather serves as the compelling “why” radical change is essential and possible. Any educator yearning to create a learning environment focused on student agency, relevant learning, autonomy, and personalized learning will value the pathways identified by the stories in this book. Any educator who is uncertain about change may find just the inspiration needed to ignite a spark by reading this book.

I am asking members of my leadership staff to read the book so that we can advance a culture of “yes and ...” for our students!

Reviewed by Theresa Alban, superintendent, Frederick County Public Schools, Frederick, Md.
Why I Wrote this Book…

“Against a lot of odds, I was able to do many things in my life. I attribute my accomplishments to my 6th-grade teacher Francis Bailey. This book is about the impact of a teacher. I hope my story will help other adults look beyond the emotional luggage a kid carries, and I want children and teenagers to know that no matter what happens to them, it doesn’t define who they are. As educators, we have the responsibility to help them understand and believe this.”

William D. Sroufe, superintendent, Colonial Heights, Va., on writing Everyone Needs a Mrs. Bailey (Akmaeon Publishing, 2018)


Trust Building

School leaders may often overlook the importance of trust building between teachers and administrators, according to a new doctoral dissertation by Ryan Place at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Place studied five school leaders to learn how they influence trust levels. Using data from administrator surveys, individual interviews, workplace observations and survey results provided by administrators involved with the study, the researcher found that building relationships with teachers enabled school leaders to influence trust levels. 

Using strategies such as openness, honesty, communication, supportiveness and consistency as well as creating a positive working environment, school leaders influence trust levels with teachers.

Copies of “How Do School Leaders Influence Trust Levels between Teachers and Administrators: A Case Study” are available from ProQuest at or 800-521-0600.


Principal Retention

The Learning Policy Institute conducted research on principal turnover and introduced solutions for avoiding turnover, such as improving working conditions and allowing decision-making authority.

The report says the average tenure of principals was four years in 2016-17.

Accelerators in Schools

The Consortium for School Networking has released its first two reports in its annual series looking at top five accelerators advancing digital transformation in school districts.

The strongest accelerators are personalization and social and emotional learning, while the biggest hurdles include data privacy and digital equity.
School Start Time

The National Center for Education Statistics released data on the start times for public high schools in the United States, as of the 2017-18 school year.

Most high schools in suburbs (54 percent) had a start time before 8 a.m. More high schools in cities (26 percent) than in suburbs (18 percent), towns (13 percent) and rural areas (11 percent) had a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, the report said.

A start time of 8:30 a.m. or later is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

National Spending Data

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that revenues and expenditures in public K-12 education nationwide increased for the fourth consecutive year in fiscal year 2017.

The report includes the most recent federal data on revenue and expenditure totals, revenues by source, expenditures by function and object, cur-rent expenditures and current expenditures per pupil.

Local K-12 Spending

A report from the National Center for Education Statistics presents data on revenues and expenditures for elementary and secondary education at the local or school district level for the 2017 fiscal year.

The national median of total revenues per pupil was $13,334, while the national median of expenditures per pupil was $11,236. This was a 1.8 per-cent increase over the previous year.

Graduation Rates

Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates for the 2017-18 school year increased nationally from the previous year across all racial and ethnic subgroups and for economically disadvantaged students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The rate for students with limited English proficiency decreased by less than one percentage point. The center also released state-level graduation rates.

Chronic Absenteeism

A new report from Future Ed examines strategies, at three intervention levels, for reducing chronic absenteeism, such as removing barriers to attendance and improving school climate.

Violent Incidents

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report on the national survey of public schools regarding enrollment where violent incidents and hate crimes occurred.

In the 2017-18 school year, 78 percent of U.S. public school students were enrolled in a school where a violent incident occurred. Of those students, 84 percent were in a school with a sworn law enforcement officer present.

Magazine’s Best Articles

For the second year, School Administrator magazine will produce a digital-only issue featuring articles and columns considered the “Best of 2019-20.”

The issue will be distributed to readers on July 1. It’s the lone month when AASA’s magazine does not appear in print.

Salary Study

AASA’s eighth annual superintendent salary study, based on more than 1,300 responses, gauges the compensation, benefits and critical demands of urban, suburban and rural school system leaders nationwide.

The report is available in two versions: a full version for AASA members and an abridged version for wider circulation.

Access the public version of the “2019-20 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study” online. AASA members can obtain the member-only version through

Advocacy Network

Stay informed about federal affairs in education through the AASA Advocacy Network. Members receive advocacy updates and calls to action, including weekly briefs on Fridays when Congress is in session, and monthly analyses to keep school system leaders up-to-date on news in the nation’s capital.

To sign up for these AASA member benefits, contact Noelle Ellerson Ng.

Superintendent Bloggers

AASA members who are active bloggers can be added to the Member Bloglist on the association’s website. You can find links to more than 100 blogs maintained by superintendents and other central-office leaders at on the AASA website. The bloglist is managed by the staff of School Administrator.