Parsing School Effectiveness and Leadership

November 28, 2018

When BCF made a commitment to invest in school effectiveness and school leadership, we had a lofty objective in mind. We wanted every student, or at least most students, in Baltimore to have the opportunity to attend a school that was operating at the highest level, delivering the best possible education, led by a strong and effective leader. But defining what that actually looked like and how to get there proved to be a challenge.

Two women standing next to each other review a document on a clipboard. Both are smiling. The woman on the left is pointing to the clipboard. We enlisted Baltimore Education Research Consortium to dig into the data. They studied 137 schools and what they found was not one magic ingredient, but five “drivers” of excellence. None of the drivers is a revelation, but this way of thinking about what a great school looks like—independent of standardized test scores—provides an important vantage point for funders and for the school system itself. It has led to new perspectives on how to identify, build and sustain leadership for our schools.

The five drivers include

  • Instruction: Teachers create a classroom environment that promotes learning, mutual respect, high expectations, and higher-level thinking.
  • Teachers: Teachers deliver highly effective instruction and meet the learning needs of all students.
  • Safety: Students, teachers, and staff feel free of physical or psychological harm.
  • Leaders: School leaders establish and communicate goals, support teacher growth, are responsive to and inclusive of staff and community, and support the other primary drivers.
  • Welcoming: Mutually welcoming and beneficial relationships are established between the school and parents/guardians. Highly effective, sustained partnerships exist with external organizations and services.


BCF has been a lead supporter of the “Heart of the Schools Awards” celebrating outstanding school principals since its inception in 2016. We have supported coaching and mentoring for school principals, and we have invested in the “school effectiveness reviews” used by City Schools to analyze what’s working and what needs attention in individual schools. Each of these efforts has been an important step, but this new perspective of the five drivers of excellence gives us a more holistic view of what can be done to strengthen our schools.

We heard a similarly expansive definition of school leadership when we sat down recently with Jacque Hayden, an Instructional Leadership Executive Director for Baltimore City Schools. Jacque supervises principals of nine Baltimore City high schools, and is responsible for helping each of those principals live up to their highest potential in the areas where they are naturally strong, and identifying the most effective tools for building their skills in other areas.

When we asked Jacque what school leadership means to her personally, she gave an impassioned response: “There’s leadership at every level, including our students. I am a role model—whether I want to be or not—to every single person in that [school] building, but I’m not more important than anyone in the building. Every single person in the building has a leadership role, and we need to make people feel like that and help them understand that.”

Investing in leadership is a key ingredient in BCF’s new strategic plan.* Like Jacque Hayden, we believe that recognizing and unlocking the leadership potential in people of all ages, at all levels, offers a path to strengthening not only our schools, but our entire community.

We’ll be making the full plan public, with specific objectives and grant application guidelines, early in 2019. Stay tuned!

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