Transitions of leadership are always difficult. But do they have to be as disruptive and stressful as they often are? How can an outgoing administrator effectively pass on his knowledge to a new administrator, especially if that knowledge was accumulated over years of experience? In this video, Howard Lichty and Joseph Shantz offer recommendations and share perspectives from their current transition of leadership at Countryside Christian School. With deliberate planning and adequate foresight, periods of transition can be more than smooth and non-disruptive. They can even be times of innovation and improvement.
When I sat down with the school board to talk about looking for a replacement and charting a course for that, one of the things they came back to me with was, “can you quantify what it is that you do?”
Transition is Hard
One of the harder aspects or different aspects of school that you hope doesn’t happen too often is is the transfer of or the transition from one administration to another.
We’ve been on the lookout for someone to step into the role of administrator here at [Countryside Christian School] for several years. And we are very thankful when Mr. Shantz joined us here on staff and also having completed his teacher’s apprenticeship program at Faith Builders.
And as part of that, I went from five days a week here at school to four days a week.
Well, here at Countryside, we are going through a transition. And so my official role this year is vice principal, and Howard Lichty is the principal, and Sharon Martin is the academic dean.
It’s been a journey for me. I think we all understand that what it would all be involved in that, but also it’s been a journey for him as well. And I know that.
And so with a school of one hundred and sixty five students approximately and a staff team of 12 to 14 —kind of including part timers—that’s a significant amount of administration to do.
Ready to work
One of my goals in this transition is that we would do well and that Mr. Shantz would be as ready as possible to to jump in and take over when that time comes, so we’ve been working at that transition over the last year, year plus, here at Countryside. We’ve been running this school year like that, and then the goal next year is that I will be here at the school two to two and a half days per week, and he will be principal, and I will be vice principal.
Change of Roles
Some of our job responsibilities, we will keep. For example, one of the main job responsibilities that he took from me this past year was dealing with student issues and any behavioral challenges—that became his role—which are typically a part of the vice principal role. I will not be assuming that next year. So we were changing titles, but not necessarily completely changing some of the roles and responsibilities as we move through the transition.
Boards Require a Transition Period
I would really encourage boards to be thinking seriously about writing it into their contract for principals, current principals, that that they’re supposed to be giving a two year a two year window of time for when they want to leave, just so that there can be a little bit more continuity, a little bit more passing the baton in a good way, a healthy way, so that any momentum that has been built with the current administration can be passed. There’s still lots of space for change and new ideas and stuff like that.
Strong Board Involvement
I think one aspect of a good transition is that the school board needs to be highly involved. I like the fact that they talk to both myself and Mr. Shantz individually and ask, “How are things going? How is this transition going there?”
We all know that there’s the possibility that something might not go well, and both he and myself need to have the freedom to be able to speak to someone clearly about that.
So a strong board involvement, I think, is key to this.
Strengths of an Administrative Team
And basically, they said we need you to write down a list, both small things and bigger things of everything that you do, and we’ll take a look at that list. So that was a big task and was one that was kind of ongoing as I tried to be as detailed as possible. And I know we’ve missed some things, but we’ve tried to catch them along the way. We sat down to do that, to quantify that.
Maybe as a side note, one thing that we are doing here at Countryside is we are, at least for now, moving towards an administrative team.
This is our first year doing it this way. In the past, we’ve only had a principal as far as doing administrative work here at school.
So we’ve been finding our way. And so we took that list of administrative job, and we kind of spread them into three job descriptions, and that’s how we divvied out the responsibilities at this point.
From the perspective of the new guy, new guy on the administration side of things, it has it has just been so ideal. It’s been a model that I would encourage. I would encourage other schools to begin thinking about—other school boards to be thinking about—just with the reality that administrators don’t stay forever.
So this is the first year that we’ve been running with an administrative team, and my experience and my perspective as an administrator is this is the best thing. And so I’m pretty biased towards them and I think they can work really well.
And I would suggest that they’re a good idea for mid to large sized schools. Mid schools, if you have if you have 60 to 70 students, I think you easily could benefit from having an administrative team.
I think there’s a lot of benefit in having our administrators still involved in the classroom teaching. And so if there’s any way that you can divide the administrative load so that it still allows the teacher, administrator, to teach in the classroom, I think that’s a benefit in keeping the administrator connected with the student body.
Also, I think when you have a team, you are able to help each other in your strong points and cover your weaknesses. And that’s been, for me, the biggest thing is I look at having been in this role for a long time, at least to myself, my weak areas have become glaringly obvious. Whereas the administrative team is just has really balanced me out in those things. And I think a school as a whole is just better off for that. So that’s a little side note, but I’ve put a plug in there for really thinking about using administrate team approach for your school administration.
And so I’ve just been blessed with having Howard modeling for me what I’m supposed to be taking on next year in a really focused and intentional way, training me on specific things, what I’m going to have to be looking after next year, things that I didn’t even know happened. He says, “Hey, this is something else that happens once a year. Come, I’ll show you what we do.” Government reporting and stuff like that that I just wasn’t even aware of.
And so I can only imagine for someone trying to take on administration, never having had that model of never having somebody show it, and in many cases, probably even not necessarily having someone to just call up and ask in the moment, just having to figure it out on their own. That can really cause for a lot of additional stress and time out of their day to be trying to figure things out.
There’s still lots of space for change and new ideas and stuff like that, but at least the good things can be passed on from one administration to the next.
Communication Addresses Challenges
When I think about challenges with an administrative team, I realized that the challenges are minimized or done away with through increased communication. So I think the importance of it is that it’s an administrative team that they meet together often, that they’re talking, that they’re all aware of situations to try to minimize surprises.
Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
But as I thought about the challenges, I think that one of the big ones is, is you have to clarify roles. You have to make sure that you know who is supposed to be doing what—if there’s assumptions made, I’m pretty sure that’s his responsibility or her responsibility. It leads to frustrations.
Transitioning Well is Important
And so with transition being a fact of of all schools, but probably at a higher rate with smaller Christian day schools, I think that the transition happening well is so important.
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CONTRIBUTOR: Howard Lichty
CONTRIBUTOR: Joseph Shantz