Leading Model Schools: What Habits Do Successful Superintendents Share?

Wondering what makes successful schools and districts tick? In this series, “Leading Model Schools,” we ask principals and superintendents from across the country to share the secrets behind the recent gains and successes in their schools and districts. Find out what’s happening in North Kansas City School District.

Dr. Jill Hackett is the Deputy Superintendent of the North Kansas City School District (NKCSD) and has almost thirty years of experience in education. In this first of a new Spark series, she shares with us some of the habits she has practiced throughout her successful career to help build a strong and vibrant school district.

HMH: Can you tell us about your career path? Have you always wanted to pursue a career in education?

Dr. Hackett: It was actually my grandmother who inspired me to embark upon a career in education.  She was very passionate about education, which had a big impact on me.

I worked on my Masters and Doctorate while I was a teacher and then pursued a role of principal in the Wichita, Kansas, area followed by three years in higher education, where I fulfilled roles as an Assistant Professor, Dean and Vice President.

During this time, though, the K-12 space was calling my name, and I was thrilled to take up an Assistant Superintendent position in Lee’s Summit Public Schools and then on to North Kansas City Schools where I currently serve as the Deputy Superintendent.

HMH: What are the skills and strategies you believe are most important in your role as Deputy Superintendent?

Dr. Hackett: One of my roles as a leader is to help others cultivate their own skills and empower them to bring new ideas to the table. To help make this happen, I set aside standing weekly one-on-one face-to-face meetings with team members and talk through topics, and action plans, that are important to them. While I very much value and embrace technology, having this uninterrupted time to speak with people allows me to listen and help resolve any challenges they might be experiencing. I’ve learned that being a good listener is one of the most valuable skills to have in any profession.  

Shared leadership is also something I strongly believe in and have practiced throughout my career.  Setting parameters, yet also providing other educators the professional freedom to handle things independently builds confidence and encourages new ideas and thought processes.  This has been particularly valuable over the past year as our district central office underwent organizational changes and I obtained more direct supervisory roles across four large high schools.

HMH: In 2011, the NKCS Annual Performance Rate (APR) from the State of Missouri was 78.9%. That number grew to 97.9% in the 2014/2015 school year. To what do you attribute these gains?

Dr. Hackett: The APR is a ‘report card’ for districts from the State of Missouri.  In 2011, the district was precariously close to a place no one wanted to be. Morale was slipping and efforts across the district were siloed; teachers had been putting in tremendous time and effort, but the results of the APR just didn’t yield the expected student performance results. To turn this around, we empowered teachers at a local level by centralizing processes across the district. The implementation of restructured professional development programs increased teachers’ independent empowerment and allowed them to address students’ academic needs in a strategic, and systemic, manner which allowed for collective ownership of student achievement.

HMH: Can you describe any recent additional accomplishments the NKCSD has achieved?

Dr. Hackett: The recent passing of a 114 million dollar, no tax increase, bond highlights the level of support the community has for the NKCSD. Although the district is large and diverse with nearly 20,000 students spread across schools, the no tax increase bond pass rate of 82% is a direct reflection of an interesting blend of communities and small cities coming together to rally behind important education-based priorities. As we embark upon the design and development of a new strategic plan that will set the tone, and vision, of the district for the next five years, we’re looking forward to galvanizing continued community involvement and support. Community engagement is critical and would be my third habit.

HMH: What do you think is the biggest challenge the district faces and how are you solving that?

Dr. Hackett: The district currently maintains a 95.6 graduation rate, which is an all-time high. But one of the largest challenges we face is consistently performing at a high level and sustaining strong growth across the district. We have seen remarkable gains as a result of our work with the International Center for Leadership in Education, and we’re always focused on building upon these gains. In fact, we are expanding access to Advanced Placement courses to ensure students are challenged and have the opportunity to gain admission to a two- or four-year college of their choice.  We’re looking forward to a strong 2017!