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Management Principles and the Washington DC Public Schools

Management Principles and the Washington DC Public Schools


The Washington DC public school system was considered one of the country’s worst urban public school systems because half of the schools in the city could not meet the federal performance standards in various educational goals, including math. The poor performance raised concerns, leading to the decision to put the schools under the mayor’s control to reform the system. Major transformations began when the Washington DC public schools were under Reinoso’s leadership, who served as the Deputy Mayor for Education. He focused on improving the schools’ leadership to improve their performance and prove that putting the schools under the mayor’s control was a viable approach to meeting stakeholders’ expectations. He also wanted to create a better system for his two young children joining the DC public schools. However, his appointment raised concerns because some staff members on the school board felt that he did not have any political background, had come from the private sector, and was among the industries that had distanced themselves from a failing school system, thus raising concerns that he would focus on enriching himself and growing his career rather than improving the school system. Therefore, he had to use his leadership competencies to ensure that the new system effectively enhanced the performance of the DC public schools.

Main Issues/Problems

One of the main issues in the case study is high turnover. According to Hafrey & Reavis (2011), the turnover for superintendents in DC public schools was 2.4 years compared to 4.6 years in other cities within the United States. The high turnover was caused by issues such as a lack of clear accountability, inability to support and serve special education students, lack of systematic emphasis on essential learning and teaching, an inadequate workforce, limited community engagement and school responsiveness, school safety concerns, and inefficiencies in implementation, management, and operations. The lack of alignment and agreement among the chiefs caused the lack of clear accountability. More emphasis was also placed on adult job savings rather than student achievement. The superintendent appointees could not handle assigned tasks, and no chain of command existed. For instance, citizens directly voiced their concerns and complaints to the school board because the DC public schools were not responsive.

The second issue was the lack of clear policies and procedures governing operations. According to Hafrey & Reavis (2011), decisions were made based on a person’s relationship because there was no organizational structure. The schools also lacked alignment between expectations, management, and outcomes. The existing legislation governing the schools’ operations included non-core responsibilities, thus shifting focus from the schools’ responsibility to educate students. There was also no proper separation between local and state school responsibilities, thus making it hard to define the lines of accountability. The lack of policies and procedures was also evident in the allocation of resources. According to Hafrey & Reavis (2011), the schools spent most of their budget on administration and less on instruction and teachers. The schools also lacked policies and procedures, leading to poor project management. Facilities upgrades took a long time, and 150 schools had broken windows, malfunctioning bathrooms, broken water fountains, and poor lighting.

The third issue is resistance to change. According to Hafrey & Reavis (2011), there was a strong belief that the school systems could not be changed. This created resistance to the proposed change of placing the schools under the mayor’s leadership. Some excuses to block the shift included incompetence in the central office, family circumstances, and the condition of the physical location. Leaders also failed to cultivate an environment that could create a positive attitude toward the change. For example, the superintendent of the Miami-Dade school system used the wrong tactics to implement change. His main aim was to close deals, engage, use charms, and outmaneuver until people agreed with him on his vision for urban education. He also focused on proposing aggressive reforms in the urban school districts. Therefore, it was challenging to convince stakeholders to accept the change without the support of leaders. Reinoso had to persuade the leaders to take and share the change with their followers for a smooth transition into the mayoral leadership system.

Recommendations on Effective Solutions/ Strategies/Biblical Perspective

According to Al-Suraihi et al. (2021), the work environment is the leading cause of turnover in many organizations. In the case study, it is evident that the work environment at the DC public schools is not conducive, especially for employees in leadership positions, due to the pressure to meet federal performance standards and bureaucracy dictating the decision-making process. Therefore, I would recommend increasing employee engagement to reduce turnover. Employee engagement increases the extent to which employees feel the organization cares about them and appreciates their contribution to meeting its objectives. Engagement also creates a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Raza et al. (2020) argue that employee belongingness and engagement increase employee motivation while strengthening the organization. It also facilitates faster decision-making and problem-solving, increasing productivity, decreasing absenteeism, improving employee attitudes toward their work, and reducing turnover. Therefore, increased engagement of the superintendents in the DC public schools can influence them to develop a positive attitude toward their work, thus enhancing their performance and leading to improved performance of the DC schools. This can create a sense of pride in their work, thus reducing turnover. Employee engagement in the DC schools should also include the participation of each employee in decision-making to eliminate the existing bureaucracy.

I recommend developing an organizational culture in the DC public schools to address the lack of explicit operational policies and procedures. According to Collins (2021), corporate culture is a system of shared values, assumptions, and beliefs governing people’s organizational behaviors. The DC public schools must focus on purpose, core values, and norms when developing the culture. Purpose includes the organization’s main reason for existence beyond profit generation, which serves as the guide for policies and procedures. For example, the DC public schools aim to improve children’s academic performance and impart knowledge and skills that can be applied to career development. Cultural norms include the patterns of behaviors, attitudes, and practices that express an organization’s underlying purpose. They describe how employees and organizations operate in line with corporate ideology. The DC public schools’ cultural norms may include recognizing and rewarding good teaching, setting targets for learners and rewarding learners who meet the targets, and encouraging teachers to experiment with new ideas. Core values have an organization’s enduring and essential set of guiding principles. The DC public schools’ core values may include trust, integrity, accountability, respect, and professionalism. The schools should also ensure that the culture is aligned with their vision and address issues such as lack of accountability.

According to Polat (2016), resistance to change increases the likelihood of a change being dysfunctional. Therefore, I would recommend using education and participation to reduce resistance. Education includes informing those affected by and involved in the change about its benefits, rationale, and implementation process (Bridgman, 2020). Education also includes imparting relevant skills, knowledge, positive attitudes, and skills to everyone expected to support and understand the change. Meetings and workshops can be used to facilitate learning. The training addresses the problem of the lack of competencies needed to implement a change. Information should be shared by those who introduce the change to avoid sharing misleading information. Participation includes involving everyone affected by a change in the design and implementation of the change (Bridgman, 2020). It allows people to understand the change and ask for clarification on unclear information, thus reducing resistance. The DC public schools’ superintendents and teachers should be involved in designing the proposed change by developing laws governing the new system and selecting board members representing their interests in the new system.


The DC public schools system in Washington DC failed when Reinoso took over its leadership as the Deputy Mayor for Education. The main issues were high turnover of superintendents, lack of clear policies and procedures governing operations, and resistance to change. However, Reinoso used his leadership competencies to overcome these issues. Although his strategies were effective, some recommendations should be considered to address the problems in the long term. For instance, the DC public schools should create an organizational culture defining their practice, core values, and cultural norms to address the lack of explicit operational policies and procedures. Resistance to change can be addressed through education and participation, and high turnover can be addressed through increasing employee engagement.


Al-Suraihi, W. A., Samikon, S. A., Al-Suraihi, A.-H. A., & Ibrahim, I. (2021). Employee turnover: Causes, importance, and retention strategies. European Journal of Business and Management Research, 6(3), 1–10.

Bridgman, T. (2020). Overcoming compliance to change: Dynamics of power, obedience, and resistance in a classroom restructure.

Collins, D. (2021). Redeeming organizational culture. Rethinking Organizational Culture, 55–74.

Hafrey, L., & Reavis, C. (2011). Management Principles and the Washington, DC Public Schools (A): Choosing a Chancellor. MIT Sloan Management.

Polat, N. (2016). Resistance to change. Regime Change in Contemporary Turkey.

Raza, M., Wisetsri, W., Chansongpol, T., Somtawinpongsai, C., & Ramírez-Asís, E. H. (2020). Fostering workplace belongingness among employees. Polish Journal of Management Studies, 22(2), 428–442.



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This week, we will analyze a case study by Leigh Hafrey and Cate Reavis titled Management Principles and the Washington, DC Public Schools (A): Choosing a Chancellor.

Management Principles and the Washington DC Public Schools

Management Principles and the Washington DC Public Schools

In 1998, Jill Medvedow was hired as the director of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Her mandate was to reinvent a museum with no permanent collection, draw 25,000 visitors a year, have few members, and have almost no money. This case demonstrates how Medvedow rebuilt (literally and figuratively) a powerless organization by being disciplined, getting people to believe in an idea, and taking many risks.

Learning Objective
To demonstrate how an organization with exemplary leadership can effect change with little or no power.

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