​Dena R. Cushenberry 
Superintendent, Warren Township in Marion County, Indiana 
The Center for Appreciative 
Organizing in Education ​
Starting with the second week of the school year, the board members accompany me on my many tours of the district. On one such tour, this time to a middle school, the board members were impressed with the students’ contagious enthusiasm and their impressive academic accomplishments and progress. In fact, the whole school seemed buoyed up with optimism and an easy joy.
Part of this was due, no doubt, to the fact that the new principal of the school had had a birthday earlier that week, and the staff were still busy celebrating. But why were they so enthusiastic about this new principal? Why him in particular? Why was his birthday such a grand cause for celebration?
I thought I knew the answer.
The former principal was a good manager with an old school principal philosophy. Before coming to the middle school, he had been appointed to one of our high performing elementary schools. But as soon as he arrived, he changed teacher assignments without asking teachers for their input and without research that supported the changes he wanted made. He appeared to be saying, “I’m doing it because I can.” Right off the bat, he put his staff forever on their toes as to what he was expecting of them as their leader.
When we moved him over to the middle school, he was unhappy there, too. He insisted that he instead be transferred back to one of our high performing elementary schools.
But I was hesitant. In observing this troubling situation, I began to notice his lack of teaching experience becoming more and more of a liability. His inability to support his teachers and to listen to their frustrations de-stabilized a high performing staff. With every passing year, the gaps in his preparation and experience as a leader became more and more apparent. He was simply an old school manager at heart who was trying to operate in a world much too unfamiliar to him.
So when he expressed his desire to be moved to one of our high performing schools, I told him he would have to go through our principal selection process like any other candidate first.

He was not selected.
That day we toured the school, we celebrated the new principal’s birthday with a staff as enthusiastic about their new administrator as we ever could have hoped for. I found the clearest evidence I needed that we made the right choice. It’s all about the students and our creating the conditions for student learning. If the administrator can’t perform that job adequately, then they can’t remain in the position. It’s a tough call to make and, at times, an even harder one to justify to yourself, but it’s a call you’ve still got to make – and you’ve got to act in the best interests of the district, the school, and, of course, the students.
What’s always stuck with me about this story is that, through my five years as Superintendent, I have been painstakingly searching for talented leaders, deliberately combing through the fields of applicants for the right mentors and supporting them up the administrative ladder with great care and intention. I know it takes sensitive, relational, and distributive leadership to support our teachers as they work hard to improve their teaching to fit a twenty-first century model of schooling. I will wait and give people a chance. I will support them if they’re having trouble. I will do all that I can for every single member of this district’s invaluable educational team.

But at the end of the day, we’re in it for the students.