A dozen superintendents willingly subjected themselves to struggling with some of the toughest dilemmas in school system leadership for an hour early Saturday.
They did so at a session titled “What Would Ethical Leaders Do?” staged by three current and former superintendents involved as panelists in the long-running Ethical Educator column in AASA’s School Administrator magazine. Those columnists – Shelley Berman, Sarah Jerome and Max McGee – brought along some of the cases they’ve had to an analyze in recent months and solicited a wide range of equally troubling scenarios with no easy escape routes from those who attended.
McGee, who leads Hazard Young Attea and Associates after a previous stint as superintendent in Palo Alto, Calif., shared the AASA code of ethics as a grounding point for decision making on the difficult situations. One that the panel posed involved a major donation to a school district’s foundation for rebuilding arts and music facilities in the schools, but the pledge was coming from someone with reputed ties to organized crime. Would the superintendents recommend the foundation board spurn the multi-million-dollar gift?
When the case appeared in the Ethical Educator column, some panelists said they would reject the offer while at least one other said she’d accept the money, “To make a judgement about one (donor’s background) and not another in support of children in our schools … is not a good basis on which to base a decision,” said Jerome, now retired after serving in superintendencies in Illinois and Wisconsin.
McGee described his queasiness over attending a meeting of state education commissioners underwritten and hosted by Michael Milken, the financier and philanthropist who was convicted and served jail time for felony violations of U.S. securities laws.
The participants raised dilemmas from their own school settings. These included a situation where a school board, not the superintendwent, made a school closing decision because of the high incdiecne of flu-like symptoms among many students. Several shared tough calls from recent experience involving social media and electronic communication.
No easy answers emerged to any of the difficult cases, but Berman, the superintendent in Andover, Mass., and an Ethical Educator columnist from the beginning, tried to provide a summary of the decision-making process. “The question to me is what do we stand for and when?”
(Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online and School Administrator magazine.)