The NY State math achievement results were in. The percentage of students who passed in grades 3 through 6 ranged from 35% to 46%. The 7th and 8th grades passing rates were 55% and 58%. We were all terribly disappointed—students, parents, teachers and school leaders. In the run up to the tests, we had given students pre-tests and provided extra help sessions and extended school day programs based on the data; we had purchased new math instructional materials; we even threw pizza parties celebrating good attendance at extra help sessions. Where did we go wrong? What could we do now?

Some teachers blamed the students for not doing their homework and parents for not checking their child’s homework. Some parents blamed teachers who didn’t stay after school or tutor kids during their lunch time. They blamed school leaders for large class sizes.

I had a theory. As someone who had supervised student teachers, I knew that many, if not most k through 6 classroom teachers, had not taken a math course since high school. Was it possible that teachers who were responsible for teaching math content did not know enough math? As the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, I decided to check out my theory. I reviewed the teachers’ college transcripts in their personnel files. My theory was confirmed. Only 7 of the 84, or about 8%, of grades 3 through 6 classroom teachers had completed a college math course. However, did they know enough elementary school math content to satisfy the demands of their curriculum? I needed to validate my guiding principle: YOU CAN’T TEACH WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW.

As for the 7th and 8th grade teachers, most were math majors. About a third did not major in math, but had met the minimum math requirements to obtain their certification as teachers of math.

Next, I organized meetings with teachers of math at each grade level 3 through 8. The district math coordinator designed parallel student math assessments for each grade level which were based on the most current available student assessment. Teachers anonymously took their 27-question grade-level student assessment in the time allotted to students, filling in the answer on their Scranton sheet. Upon completing the test, each teacher ran their answer sheet through the Scranton machine for scoring, and kept their answer sheet. The machine tallied the results, which were then shared with each grade level group.

Here’s the 4th grade results of the 21 teachers who took the 27 question 4th grade student parallel assessment: 27 correct-2; 26 correct-4; 25 correct-3; 24 correct-3; 23 correct-5; 22 correct-2; 22 correct-1; 21 correct-1. As for the other grade levels, 3 through 6, the results were very similar. Ninety percent of the 7th and 8th grades teachers scored 27 out of 27; none scored less than 25 correct. My hypothesis was validated. I understand that this is not a scientific study. But it is compelling data. I want to repeat that the individual scores of the teachers were confidential. Only the individual teacher knew their own score.

As an outgrowth of this discovery, I hired a highly respected professor of mathematics education and provided our 3 through 8 teachers with 36 hours of math instruction with an emphasis on content. The consultant’s approach was one of inquiry, making sure that each teacher developed a deep understanding of the math concepts. The consultant used part of his time doing classroom demonstration lessons and pushing into the classroom and coaching the teacher.

As a result, the achievement scores jumped to an average of 75% passing over the next 3 years.


When Should You Begin Preparing for a Job Search

When Should You Begin Preparing for a Job Search

 It is never too early to begin preparing for a job search. Most candidates don’t get serious about their search early enough. They procrastinate until the “prime seasons” for job postings. In general, Superintendent searches happen from January through March, Central Office from February to April, Principals from April to May, and all other supervisory jobs from March through May. Serious job search preparation includes up-dating and revising your resume and cover letter, and prepping for interviews. Think of job search preparation as Spring Training. In baseball, Spring Training starts in January for the regular season that starts in April. The practice of getting ready early makes sense for several reasons.

  1. The odds are in your favor during the “off season”—Jobs are posted all year round. Incumbents leave their positions for variety of reasons, such as retirement, child birth, taking another position, illness and death, relocating, and the necessity of child care or caring of a loved one. Whereas the number of applicants typically can exceed 100 during prime season, there may be only 20 applicants during off season. That’s a 500% advantage. Preparing early means you’ll be ready for off season job postings.
  2. Fine tuning your resume and cover letter takes time — Crafting your resume requires a series of edits over time. The role of the resume is to tell your story in an appealing manner which will distinguish you in a positive way from the rest of the field. To produce a truly effective resume demands meticulous attention to every detail.
  3. The ability to perform an outstanding interview is the result of internalizing thoughtful responses to a range of topics – I have identified “The 20 Most Asked Interview Questions”. The answers to these and possible other questions cannot and should not be subjected to memorization. A successful candidate needs to create an appealing narrative, and to internalize a powerful set of guiding principles that go to the core of the issues. It takes time to marinate a fine steak. Similarly, it takes time to internalize thoughtful answers to interviewers’ questions, answer with an authentic voice, and respond efficiently and effectively.

If you are a serious candidate, then take my advice: it is never too soon to prepare yourself. Here are a few things you should do to get going: read how to books; find and meet with a job coach; attend workshops; develop drafts of your resume and cover letter.




How Getting a Screening Interview Really Works

How Getting a Screening Interview Really Works

How is your resume screened? What is the screener looking for? How many make it through to the interviewing committee? How does the interviewing committee make decisions? Be aware that each district customizes their process; however, the variations are usually minor. So, how does it really work?

When you apply for a position, be prepared to wait. Don’t be a pest and call the personnel office to inquire about your status. They are busy people who are filling many different positions and dealing with other issues. My experience is that about 10% of the applicants are unqualified because they don’t meet the minimum qualifications with regard to certification, education and experience. My practice was to have the clerks in the personnel office print out the letters and resumes of all qualified candidates and send them to the direct supervisor for further screening. Let’s assume there are 100 candidates left in the pile. The plan is to have a screening committee interview about 15 to 18 candidates.

So, how do they get from 100 to 15 using the paper work? If it takes just two minutes to review each candidate’s papers, that’s 160 minutes. I’m sorry to say that papers usually will get less than two minutes. The reviewer is a busy person. Therefore, the reviewer will generally quickly scan the resumes. Typos and grammatical errors get tossed out. A frequent error is getting a letter addressed to another district’s administrator. These kinds of errors connote that you are sloppy and make mistakes. That aside, how does the paper screener use those two minutes? His or her goal is to sort the total pile of resumes into three piles. Pile A will contain the “must see”, B “maybe”, and C are of “no further interest”. Those in the A group are: (1) seeking a “good” parallel move; (2) people who hold degrees from outstanding universities; (3) holding a doctorate; (4) qualified internal candidates or courtesy interviews; and (5) unique and/or interesting candidates. The B pile is created in case they can’t get 15 to 18 into the A pile and then get a second look. The C pile is composed of inexperienced people with little in the way of accomplishments, folks with poor reputations, the “perennial” candidate, and those who have unexplained and suspicious gaps on their resumes. A “good” parallel move is when you have earned tenure in your present position, are seeking to move into a better district that often pays more, or the move represents a significantly shorter commute.

Outstanding universities, in my opinion, are the Ivy League schools or those fine schools with which we are familiar. In the New York area, graduate degrees from Columbia Teachers’ College, NYU and Fordham are the most coveted. Under-graduate degrees from fine colleges are also appealing on resumes. I always counsel aspiring leaders who are serious about their careers in leadership to earn the doctorate from a prestigious university. It’s an investment in yourself that will get you into that A pile, and will save you years of disappointment as you apply for positions that result in coming up empty. Yes, the tuition is expensive and you might have to commute longer distances, but in the long run, the investment will pay off.

Unique and/or interesting candidates are people who have been successful in: the business and corporate world; the non-profit sector; the world of entrepreneurs; the military. When qualified, these candidates, depending on their accomplishments, are often worthy of a good look. Finally, courtesy interviews are given to those who “have friends in high places” (Board members, recommendations from friends of upper level administrators). A courtesy interviewee is generally only guaranteed a screening interview. Then they are on their own; meaning that they must compete fairly with everyone else.

The screening interview usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. If it lasts longer, then that’s a good sign—it shows interest. Smile, shake hands, be friendly. The screening committee will likely consist of two or three people. If you’re interviewing for an assistant principal position, you will probably meet the principal, an assistant principal, perhaps the director of human resources, and/or a teacher. Be aware that the screening interview is essentially a “beauty contest”. By this I mean, it’s designed to see if you’re a “regular person” (not quirky, odd in some way, or inappropriate), well spoken, professional, intelligent, easy to engage, respectful, and seemingly a good fit for the community. They usually start by asking: “Tell us about yourself”.

Be prepared to answer what I call resume questions. “You’ve been an assistant principal at the ABC School for four years, why do you want to leave now?” “I understand that your school recently hired a new principal, were you a candidate for that position?” “I see you were a dean for two years and then you went back to the classroom. Can you explain this?” They may also ask, what I call, process or “how would you” questions: “Given the teacher evaluation regulations, walk us through how you would observe a teacher who is not in your area of teacher certification?” Limit your answers to more than two minutes. If they want more, they’ll ask.

They usually wrap up the interview with the moderator saying, “We’re speaking to a number of folks. Hopefully, we’ll be back to you within the next couple of weeks. Do you have any questions for us at this time?” Now remember, they are under strict time constraints. They are being polite. They really don’t want to answer a lot of questions. It’s time to thank them for the opportunity, indicate that you look forward to seeing them again, and leave them with an upbeat thought.

Then, the screening committee’s goal is to reduce the number of candidates to a reasonable number, let’s say 6 to 8. At the completion of all interviews, a good moderator might ask committee members, “Can we reach agreement on who we can eliminate?” Given the discussions between each interview, they usually can quickly get down to 9 or 10 remaining candidates. Ultimately, they screen it down to 6 to 8, and their job is done. The next step is the semi-finalists going on to the larger interviewing committee.

It’s time to wait it out and hope for the best. If you’re rejected and the moderator appeared to be sincerely approachable, you might want to write a short email thanking them for their efforts, and asking if it would be okay to schedule a brief telephone conversation to get constructive feedback. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back, but if you do, you will get valuable feedback for self-reflection.


So, You Want to Be a Superintendent

So, You Want to Be a Superintendent of Schools: Topics for Interview Questions

  1. Improvement of Learning and Teaching
  2. Implementing the Common Core
  3. Building Constituencies
  4. What do you think are the most difficult type of problems that you will face?
  5. Dealing with an angry hostile crowd
  6. Building an Effective Leadership Team
  7. Succession Planning
  8. Response to Crises
  9. Developing a School Budget

10.Capital Improvement Planning

11.Teacher and Principal Evaluations

12.Entry Plan–1st hundred days

13.What qualities do you look for in candidates?

14.Board-Superintendent Relationship—information to one is information to all; role is to protect the Board; Board is a body corporate; what gets communicated and how; building consensus; school board member visits to schools; communication with school leaders

15.Central Office Relationships

16.Principal-Superintendent Relationship

17.What functions does Superintendent take charge of directly?

18.Appointments and Tenure Decisions

19.Developing district goals

20.Negotiations with various unions

21.Communicating with School Counsel

22.Superintendent Hearings

23.Board Meetings—executive session; agenda; dealing with open session; role of Board President; open meeting law

24.Dealing with Grievances

25.Conducting Investigations of Wrong Doing

26.Superintendent Evaluation

27.Superintendent’s Contract

28.Bond Issue

29.Snow Days

30.Dealing with the Union Leaders


32.Building High Morale

33.Creating and Sustaining Positive Change

34.Decision Making Process

35.Making Unpopular Decisions

36.School Security and Public Safety

37.Relations with Police and Fire Officials

38.Maintaining Positive Public Relations

39.Visibility vs. Accessibility

40.Speaking with One Voice

41.Interfacing—parents, students, teachers, community leaders, community

42.Public Image

43.Dealing with “special requests and favors”

44.Dealing with Disloyal Administrators

45.Revising and Creating School Board Policies

46.What would you do if you strongly disagreed with a decision of the Board?

47.How long do you expect to remain in the district?

48.Are there any issues that might be non-negotiable?

49.Free speech and student publications

50.Role of technology

51.Cost of special education

52.Comprehensive Self-Evaluation

53.Buildings and Grounds

54.Cost Saving Strategies

Do You Need a Coach to Get Your Dream Job?

Recently, a school district posted an ad for an assistant principal. They received more than 150 applicants, met with 25 for a pre-screening interview, and then a hiring committee interviewed 12 semi-finalists. The Kentucky Derby had 16 horses “run for the roses”. Those horses had the benefit of the best trainers in the world prepare them. Trying to get a leadership job is very much like a horse race.

Extending the horse racing metaphor. Have you ever gotten a tip on a horse or a stock or a restaurant? Tips are for amateurs. A tip is nothing but an opinion. I never made money on stock tips, and am usually disappointed with tips in general. Tipsters aren’t coaches. A good experienced coach teaches you strategies, rehearses you, gives you feedback, and acts as your cheerleader.

How much of an investment does a serious candidate make to get a leadership job? There are education expenses such as application fees, tuition, books, and expenses for commuting… then there’s buying your interview suit or outfit. That’s at least $10,000 to $15,000. Does investing $45 to attend a workshop, or $20 to buy a book, or a few hundred dollars for a coach make sense?  Your salary will increase by 20%. What can a coach do for you? Does coaching actually work?

Being a well-coached candidate can mean the difference between playing a good game of checkers compared to being a fine chess player. A good coach will prepare you in: honing your resume and cover letter; presenting yourself with self-confidence; telling your story as to why you’re the right match; anticipating and preparing impressive and unique responses to the interviewers’ questions; and strategizing what to say, what not to say, and how to read body language.  And yes, coaching does work. Coaching should also be confidential. There’s no reason for anyone to know the secret to your success.

Your university probably offers free workshop in preparing your resume and letter, and provides a list of interviewing tips. However, an experienced coach has a network of former clients and colleagues. He/she knows the school districts and their inside politics. You will be guided in how to fashion your approach to the unique needs and wants of the district.

A good coach also helps build your confidence, guides you in closing the deal, and assists you in negotiating your contract.  Don’t leave getting a leadership job up to chance. Don’t rely on tips. Remember, getting promoted is a lifetime gain which requires a short-term investment. The best investment you will ever make is in yourself.


Dr. Larry Aronstein provides one-on-one coaching to school leaders and aspiring leaders in preparing for interviews and in the preparation of resumes. Larryaronstein.com

The Inside Candidate

Should you even bother to apply for a job when you know that there are inside candidates? Can you beat out an insider? Are the cards already stacked against you? The short answer is that you should apply—there is nothing to lose. The actual status of the insider or insiders is unknown. The “powers that be”, the superintendent, board members, other administrators, may not favor the insider. The insider may have been on the wrong side of some internal issue, or is just not well respected. Oftentimes, the screening committee or the hiring committee will reject the insider’s candidacy, which results in a wide-open process.

Even if there you wind up competing with an insider, it remains a possibility that you may prevail. You have no control over the status of other candidates, but you do have control over the quality of your performance. All you can do is to do your very best and then hope for the best.

Nepotism and xenophobia have always existed in many of our schools. It goes beyond just knowing someone on the inside to get a job. Sometimes you must be someone on the inside. Under some circumstances you must even live and work in the district. Organizations that regularly practice nepotism are often resistant to change and do not honor diverse perspectives which might come from outside sources. However, leaders in these schools might argue, “if it ain’t broken why fix it”. They assert the need for continuity and consistency. They preach that outsiders don’t relate to their community. They take pride in being a “close knit community”. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the only way to land a job in many school districts is to be an inside candidate. If this is the case, then you will probably be better off not working in a place like this. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.

Besides being unfair, nepotism often results in mediocrity in that the best qualified candidates are passed up, and the same practices are perpetuated, as the torch is passed to another insider who was weaned in a closed system. The justification for rejecting outside candidates is often that “they’re not a good fit”which ironically is often true! Unfortunately, sometimes “outsiders” are chosen and then not listened to, sometimes even shunned. However, schools are entities that must continue to grow and learn.

Supervising Difficult and/or Resistant Staff

Supervising Difficult and/or Resistant Staff

Every faculty has difficult and/or resistant people. I think that most supervisors would agree that dealing with them is the most challenging aspect of their job. Being a difficult person is a personality trait. Difficult people come in several varieties. They are often whiners, judgmental, opinionated, and negative. Resistant people do not like change. Resistance can range from being fairly subtle, such as avoidance or passive aggressive behavior, all the way to outright defiance, hostility, and sabotage.

To better understand and then deal with difficult and resistant staff, let’s make some assumptions: (1) Being difficult and being resistant are not the same; however, one can be both difficult and resistant. (2) Almost everyone comes to work each day with the belief that they do a good job and try their best. Now that’s what they believe. (2) Being difficult and/or resistant doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad teachers. (3) What is most relevant is that the supervisor’s most important job is to assure that every member of the staff measures up to the highest professional standards. (4) As a supervisor, you have a responsibility to treat all staff members with respect. Supervisors should never get sucked into looking and acting like bullies by using your position to be punitive or by threatening others. (5)  The faculty is made up of intelligent people who see naysayers for what they are and most don’t want to get involved with petty school politics. (6) If you give naysayers more energy than they deserve, it is like fertilizing weeds, the weeds will likely grow, and you don’t want to squander your energies in unproductive ways. (7) Deal with conflicts privately. Do not avoid confronting negative behavior because it will grow if it is not addressed. (8) Supervise to the evidence, meaning gather data and artifacts as they relate to teaching and learning, and holding staff accountable to procedures and policy. (9) If there is evidence that someone is under-performing, then deal with the under-performance as an opportunity for staff development. (10) We all learn best and change our behaviors by reflecting on our own practices and deciding that we need to make corrective actions. As a supervisor, your job is to hold up valid evidence and data to your staff member like a mirror and help them to reflect upon their own actions and the results of those actions.

In short, the supervisor is the professional, is a role model and never acts like a bully.

Do Not Mess Up Your Interview

Do Not Mess Up Your Interview

  • Don’t talk too much. Answer each question within two to two and one-half minutes. Give one good example. The panel is working within a tight schedule. Nobody likes a chatter box.
  • Answer the question. Stick to the interviewers’ questions. Stay on topic. Panelists usually ask the same questions to every candidate in order to compare and contrast answers. Be careful about getting on a roll and going off on tangents which results in not answering the question. Not answering the question will be noticed.
  • Never fake an answer. If you’re asked about something that you don’t know, simply admit that you don’t know. Nobody likes a faker. You should add, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I am a quick learner, and will learn whatever I need to know in order to get the job done.”
  • Don’t over do It. Laughing too long and too loud at a joke that’s not all that funny, becoming overly enthusiastic about one of your own answers, being argumentative and emphatic about a minor issue, are all examples of “over doing it.” Professionals maintain an even keel. Act like an adult. Being over-the-top just raises eye brows and generates side glances.
  • Direct yourself to the whole table. In a group interview, you have to try to please everyone who’s sitting around the table. You can’t afford to please administrators but alienate the teachers. Seek out the middle ground and demonstrate your diplomatic skills. As you speak, slowly look at all of the panelists.
  • Don’t misrepresent yourself. With the availability of Google, Facebook, and on-line newspapers, it is pretty easy to check out your background. Stretching the truth and being found out is fatal. The regional educational community is a small circle. You will be checked out.
  • Say calm. Don’t expect that every answer will be a homerun. Try not to get rattled if your answer to a question is weak. As the song says, “Just keep on keepin’ on!”  Interviewers are people too. They know that you’re nervous, and they are forgiving. They will recognize it if you redeem yourself.
  • Act like a guest. I’ve witnessed candidates come into the room and move their table and chair to be closer to the panel. I’ve encountered several candidates who became insistent about setting up a PowerPoint presentation, even after they were told not to do so. Most commonly, there are candidates who drone on and on, despite being told, “Thank you. Now, let’s go on to the next question.” You’re not throwing the party. Act like a guest.
  • Be respectful. No matter how disrespected you might feel, always remain respectful. As a candidate, I have sat out in a waiting room for up to an hour and a half. I have been asked to do a writing sample, even though I’ve been published dozens of times. A questioner has criticized my current employer. Through it all, hold your tongue, smile, and be polite.
  • Leave your baggage home. Question: “What do you expect from us in order for you to be successful?” The best response would be to say, “I work best as a member of a mutually supportive team.” Unfortunately, I’ve actually had candidates say, “My last boss was verbally abusive, I could not work under those conditions.” Another response was, “I need to have flexibility. As a parent, I have to be home by 4:30, and I can’t attend evening functions.”

The best advice that anyone can give you is to just be yourself, let them know who you are and what you stand for, speak from the heart, and be appropriate.


A Case of Nerves


“I get so nervous when I interview that I freeze.” It is natural that interviewees feel nervous about interviewing. There’s a lot at stake. You have invested a great deal of time, effort and money in trying to take the next step in your career. You’re walking into a room all alone to meet a group of strangers who are going to ask you difficult questions and make judgments about if they like you, if you’re a good fit, and as to your qualifications and readiness. It is threatening that you are facing possible rejection. For most of us, interviewing is an unfamiliar, somewhat intimidating, and uncomfortable experience. So what you do to calm your nerves and become more effective?

You should take some comfort in knowing that the interviewers who are across the table have been on your side of the table and understand your nervousness. They are quite forgiving of a shaky voice and a little perspiration. But how do you avoid freezing?

My formula for shedding your nervousness is: (1) be familiar with each step of the interview process; (2) be prepared by anticipating many of the questions by preparing and practicing your answers; (3) learn how to read and respond to the interviewers’ body language and non-verb clues; (4) find comfort in your knowledge and skillfulness; (5) stay out of “your own head” (how am I doing; are they liking me) by just focusing on answering the question; and (6) only speak to the individual who asked the question (don’t look at the large group).

Perhaps an analogous situation might serve to illustrate my approach. I must confess that sometimes I get anxious when I travel. I imagine that the taxi is going to drop me at the wrong terminal; the flight will be over-booked and I’ll get bumped; the plane will leave late and I’ll miss my connecting flight; upon arrival I’ll be told that my hotel reservation was for last week and they are now all booked up—I can go on and on with my fears. However, I’m happy to report that over time I have figured out ways to alleviate most of my anxieties. I take a page from my own formula by familiarizing myself in advance with my ticket which identifies the terminal; I try to book non-stop direct flights; I re-confirm my hotel reservation; and if unanticipated problems arise, I have copies of all the documentation and contact phone numbers in my possession—you get the idea.

A good coach will walk you through the interview process step-by-step. You will learn what forms of body language to look for and how you should respond verbally and non-verbally. You will analyze and practice answering the most often asked questions. You will role play and have a dress rehearsal. You will report back as to your actual performance, and will get feedback on how you might improve. You will find comfort through all of your preparation, and as a result your nervousness will be minimized.

Guide for Resumes

Your resume is your first introduction to your potential employer. As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. As a career coach, I rarely see a resume that can’t be significantly improved upon. If you are a well qualified candidate and are not getting interviews to at least 40% of the jobs to which you are applying, then your problem is your resume. The job of your resume is to get you to the next step, an interview. Here are my guidelines for preparing a resume that works for you.

  1. Less Is More
  2. Accomplishments; Not Job Description
  3. Lead with Your Strengths (list first—catch attention)
  4. Ignore Most Rules (omit objective; determine your own sequence of categories and timeline; keep format simple)
  5. Start Bullet Statements with Action Verb (past tense)
  6. Emphasize Accomplishments that Match Job Posting (strengths)
  7. Omit Irrelevant Activities and/or Accomplishments for the Position
  8. Interests & Activities Can Capture Attention– acting, boxing, interesting hobbies (visits to Presidents’ birth sites), unique travel experiences, speak foreign languages
  9. Feng Shui Your Resume
  10. Tailor for Each Different Position (urban, affluent or blue collar community, small town, rural)
  11. Set Maximum Number of Bullets– current 5-6; prior 2-5; before that 1-3
  12. Sweat the Mechanics– spelling, subject-verb agreement, capitalization and punctuation; grammar; word selection; consistent format; readable font size
  13. Cover Letter– 3-4 paragraphs always required but seldom read
  14. References upon Request
  15. Get Authoritative Feedback
  16. Never Confuse or Mislead the Reader– clear timeline; short and simple sentences


Larry Aronstein is a career coach who assists leaders and aspiring leaders in preparing their resumes and prepping for interviews. Visit www.larryaronstein.com to find out about Dr. Aronstein’s services, workshops, and ebooks.