You’re Leaving? Succession and Sustainability in Charter Schools Christine Campbell
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington
November 2010


The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington spent four years studying charter school teachers and leaders: CRPE’s survey of 400 charter school leader respondents and fieldwork in 24 charter schools in California, Hawaii, and Texas has yielded important insights into these questions and the future of maturing charter schools.

CRPE’s research finds that many charter schools are unprepared when it comes to leadership turnover. Only half of the charter school leaders surveyed for this study reported having succession plans in place, and many of those plans are weak. Though most school leaders affiliated with charter management organizations (CMOs) reported that their school had a succession plan, there was some confusion as to who would make final decisions—school leaders or CMO leaders. For the few schools with strong plans, two elements were common: the school leaders (all with prior business experience) had taken charge of future plans, and these schools were not in the midst of crisis.

This report concludes with important steps charter schools can take to stabilize a school and better position it to choose the best possible leader. Specifically:

  • Charter schools can learn about effective succession management strategies from the nonprofit sector.
  • Governing boards need to own one of their most important duties: recruiting and selecting school leaders.
  • Authorizers should request strategic plans and emergency leadership replacement plans as part of the application and renewal process.
  • Current school leaders need to mentor next-in-line leaders and leadership team members.
  • Leaders should consider succession management—an emergency replacement plan, a strategic plan, and strategic development of leadership capacities organization-wide.
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