Jennings Superintendent’s Departure: Lessons for Education Policy
Tiffany Anderson, the superintendent of the Jennings school district, is leaving to head up the Topeka, Kansas, school district. By all accounts Dr. Anderson is a rock star. When she assumed control of the school district in 2012 it was in bad shape, deeply in the red and severely underperforming. It has now reached full accreditation and is back in the black. She will be sorely missed.
There is a lesson to learn here. It is one that people across the country have found when their great superintendent leaves for greener pastures. We cannot have school systems that are completely dependent on a one-in-a-million talent at the helm in order to succeed. There is only one Tiffany Anderson. Missouri has 520 school districts.
One of the main reasons that I advocate for a decentralized schooling system is that it is more resilient to the shocks that occur in everyday life. People move. People’s life priorities change. People die. If, for example, a school district is run by a collection of independent charter school operators and one amazing principal leaves, there is a limit to the disruption in the equilibrium of the system. But if power is centralized and the person at the top leaves, the whole system is affected.
Tiffany Anderson is proof that there are great leaders out there who can turn around struggling organizations. The problem is that there just aren’t enough of them. Our response should not be to bemoan this fact, just like it doesn’t make sense to get upset at blizzards or floods or thunderstorms. We should try and build systems that can handle the snow, the rain, and the wind.
We will have to see if the Jennings district is resilient enough to absorb the loss. For its kids’ sake I hope it is. But if it isn’t, we’ve got to start moving toward a better way.