Community Impact: School Leadership Center

April 20, 2015

The School Leadership Center is in its 17th year of developing Louisiana’s public and non-public school leaders in order to increase student achievement.

“The way I like to describe the School Leadership Center is that imagine an organization whose sole purpose was to help schools get better,” says Brian Riedlinger, the CEO of the School Leadership Center.

Dr. Anna Faye Caminita is head of school at McDonogh 42 Charter School, and one of the school leaders the School Leadership Center works with.

Dr. Caminita is in her second year as the leader of McDonogh 42, and her 11 year as a school leader. For most of that time, she’s been involved with the School Leadership Center. Back in 2007, Caminita was one of the Center’s Leadership Fellows, and she’s been anything but a stranger ever since. She recently got together with Riedlinger, to offer some feedback about the Program.

“The set up with 2 week long summer institutes, kind of book ending a school year that you work with the leadership, does that set up work seem to work for you?” asks Riedlinger.

“Absolutely,” answers Caminita. “That is on the job training. At the summit institute, you meet with your leadership team and talk about the different things you’re going to do, and then you go back to the school and then you do it.”

Caminita says this kind of ongoing, relationship-based support is so effective, and so different from her initial training experiences.

“Early on in my career, professional development reminded me of a drive by,” recalls Caminita. “The person’s going to come in and present and then you’re going to learn from them. And then they get in their car and leave. And then the teachers are to go into classroom and implement. Here at the School Leadership Center, you’re working on the concept. You frame it out and what it’s going to look like, and then you go back to your school and you do it. And then next month or so you meet and you’re able to evaluate what you have done and what your plan was and if it worked.”

Over the last eight years, Caminita has kept coming back to the School leadership Center as a resource for research, finding teaching candidates, and “because this is where the action’s happening!” Caminta exclaims. “It’s just a great network of principals and professionals that stay together and keep you on top of your game.”

“If you work in a school where leadership isn’t talked about and taught, then you think leadership is just getting everybody together and having a meeting,” says Riedlinger. “That’s really not what it’s about. It’s guiding folks, but it’s also being high energy, high ethics.”

And, says Riedlinger, it’s about building trust – a basic building block the School Leadership Center teaches leaders how to establish.

“You have a teacher calling half hour before school starts, and telling you that they’re sick, and that they wont’ be in today. So now you’re the school leader and in thirty minutes you’re going to have a bunch of kids, so what would be your first response? Well often people’s first response is why didn’t you call me sooner? That’s great but I want you to put you in the teacher’s shoes and how that teacher now feels, because you’ve completely discounted the teacher.”

Riedlinger says good schools are built on relationships, and good relationships are built on trust.

“We want to have leaders who –yeah, I’m going to take care of the task, but for the first 45 seconds, I’m going to say, how are you?” explains Riedlinger. “Look, we’ll take care of your class.  Thank you. Well now the next time that person calls, it’s much more likely that they’ll give you more notice.”

Riedlinger says the way to build trust is to make little biddy promises, and keep them. Once school leaders and teachers trust each other, they work well together to help their students. That’s how your school grows, says Riedlinger, which is the entire purpose of the School Leadership Center.

Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Learn more about the School Leadership Center.