Indeed, although systemic, transformative change is the aim, not all problems can be solved by the Leadership Academy. For example, one principal at the session with Mr. Welch complained that, through “creative budgeting,” she had saved $250,000 from her previous year’s budget so that she would have extra money to cover necessary expenses at the start of the new school year. However, in the fall, she found that the money had been “zeroed out” by the DOE. Moreover, her new budget was cut. Now she had a huge outstanding bill for football uniforms and no way to pay it.
The principal’s lament touched a nerve with Mr. Welch, who commented immediately that managers should be rewarded, not penalized, for meeting operating goals and saving money.
As he got ready to leave the academy session in Brooklyn, he asked the woman whose $250,000 surplus had disappeared for her name and contact information. “I have three takeaways that I’ll be discussing with Joel Klein,” Mr. Welch assured the principals before leaving, ticking off two other grievances they had voiced.
One benefit of the Leadership Academy and the steady stream of celebrity CEO lecturers is that they provide a pipeline of information from principals to the chancellor’s office. Ultimately, though, the future of the Leadership Academy is tied to the Bloomberg administration. The academy’s initial three-year funding will come to an end during the 2005–2006 school year, when Mr. Bloomberg will be up for reelection. His reform plans may not survive if he fails to win.
But even if he does hold onto his office, the Leadership Academy doesn’t have to become a permanent fixture. Whatever the fate of the academy itself, its success may ultimately be measured by how effectively it puts itself out of business: perhaps by setting a new, and better, standard for training principals that is eventually adopted by local universities, or by having its training programs absorbed into the city’s Department of Education.
Just as important, the academy experience in New York City validates public–private sector collaboration on a social issue where the goals of both parties strongly intersect.
“We have a lot to learn from business,” says Carmen Fariña. “But I think that business also has a lot to learn from us. We’re very community-minded. We’re about nurturing and nesting. Sometimes there is a conflict between those two cultures.” But the aim, she believes, should be to combine the best of both worlds.
Reprint No. 05207
Andrea Gabor (AAGabor@aol.com) is the author of three business books, most recently The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business — Their Lives, Times, and Ideas (Times Business, 2000). She has been an editor at U.S. News & World Report and Business Week. She currently teaches in the business journalism program at Baruch College at the City University of New York.