better schools, stronger principals
by Laura Bush
President Bush and I are excited about the work of the Bush Institute, particularly this work in the area of education. We believe that every child deserves a quality education . . . that children can succeed in school when they have caring adults in their lives who are committed to helping them achieve . . . and that a great education is possible with great leadership.
That’s why we chose to begin the Institute’s education work by focusing on education leadership. Because we believe that strong leaders create a cascading effect of success. It isn’t easy to develop district, school, and classroom leaders who do exceptional work and change the achievement and lives of children. Strong superintendants empower better principals and ensure great teachers have the best resources and training. Sadly, the reverse can be true as well: a well-trained, energetic teacher can be stifled under lackluster or discouraging administrators.
When my husband was President, I met outstanding leaders in school districts all across our country. Whether I was visiting a high school in Washington, D.C., or a middle school in inner-city Chicago, or an elementary school in Kansas, great leaders stood out because of their extraordinary energy and enthusiasm, and their superb organizational skills.
While visiting New York for International Literacy Day last September, I met a principal whose passion for literacy has led to dramatic results. Thanks to his leadership, teachers of every subject throughout the school make time to read each day, and their students do the same. And the impact is evident in the students’ achievement. Only 38 percent of students enter the school reading at grade level, but 85 percent of the eleventh graders pass the English graduation exams upon the first try.
In schools everywhere, outstanding leaders share the same goals: to provide quality educational instruction so that their students become responsible, productive citizens and lifelong learners.
At the Bush Institute we’re committed to improving the way our country trains and prepares school leaders. Our goal is to ensure that every child succeeds in school and in life by receiving a good education that prepares them to acquire a college degree or earn a competitive income. To succeed, we need exceptional leaders in every school district. This must be the rule, not the exception. And that’s why we established the George W. Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Education Leadership.
We know teachers have a direct and enormous impact on student performance and that school principals shape the environment in which teachers are able to operate successfully. The Alliance focuses on America’s 130,000 school principals as the critical leverage point for improving school and student performance. The Alliance establishes a network of regionally based innovative sites that bring together school districts, university schools of education and business, the government, and the private sector. Alliance partners in each site will work collaboratively to better identify, recruit, select, prepare, evaluate, and empower public school principals to be truly effective leaders in our nation’s schools.
The Alliance will begin working in six cities: Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado. Together, these Alliance sites will affect 200 school districts and 2,000 schools. By 2012, we anticipate operating sites in 25 cities across the United States. And by 2020, we hope to have influenced and shaped the preparation of a large proportion of the nation’s administrators, fully empowering them to lead our schools into the 21st century.
President Bush and I are excited about this groundbreaking initiative. Education has been a central policy concern for both of us since George was Governor of Texas. Education reform was what George campaigned for when he ran for President. It was a major focus during his time in the White House and it is a major focus at the Bush Institute.
This article is adapted from a speech that Mrs. Bush delivered last September in the Dallas school district where she worked as a teacher and where her daughters attended first through sixth grade.