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December 2011 Vol. 19. No. 3 Focus on District Leadership

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Leadership in lean times: A conversation with Leroy Nunery

By Interview by Bill Hangley, Jr. on Nov 23, 2011 04:12 PM

Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery says the challenge for today’s school leaders is to manage the District’s many mandates while harnessing the power of its communities – and do it all on a shoestring budget. To Nunery, growing competition and rising expectations mean that school leaders, like business leaders, need to set clear priorities and rely on flexibility, creativity, team-building, and constant communication.

Nunery became acting superintendent in August after spending 16 months at the District, most of it as Arlene Ackerman’s second-in-command. He has expressed interest in getting the permanent appointment. Here are the highlights of an hour-long interview in which Nunery shared his views on leadership.

Notebook: Dr. Nunery, this seems to be a tough time to be a principal and a tough time to manage a team of principals.

Nunery: The question we’re wrestling with is, “How do you change the culture of an organization that’s been through a lot?” A perfect example is the School Advisory Councils. You want bottom-up [leadership], but you also have to have some control. There are some principals that really understand SACs. Others are like, “Ugh, keep those folks away!” The better ones understand that they are a very powerful asset.

Notebook: What does it take to lead a school in 2011?

Nunery: The hardest thing we have to do right now is to find people who are able to take on that challenge. Not everybody who’s been certified has the cultural competence or the emotional intelligence.

You’ve got to give them autonomy to do what they know how to do. And they’ve got to communicate. I look at people like Ed Penn [principal of Roberto Clemente], Sheldon Pavel [Central], Carol Domb [McCall], or Cindy Farlino [Meredith], and part of what I see is a willingness to engage the people around them. Some principals aren’t as interactive as they should be. If they shut down inside a building, they’re going to shut down with parents and communities.

Ed Penn is a great example. As we’re walking around the building, he’s allowing his senior folks to talk to me. He wasn’t trying to block the view. He uses the tools that are at his disposal: access to people, a willingness to negotiate with the communities around him, listening. He has a school security officer who also participates in his culinary arts program, teaching the kids how to make cherries jubilee. Suddenly that officer has a whole other dimension. Good leaders use those dimensions.

Notebook: Can you tell if a school has effective leadership without actually going into the building?

Nunery: No – I think that’s hard. The numbers can look great. But how happy is your family? And how honest an exchange is there about what’s going on? Walk into a building, and you can tell if it’s working.

Notebook: What resources do you have to develop these skills? Do you have a leadership budget?

Nunery: No, not really. We set up an ”Aspiring Leaders” program – we had a whole auditorium full, maybe three, four hundred people who want to take that step. But you can only do so much by running them through simulations.

Notebook: How much are today’s principals constrained by NCLB and testing?

Nunery: In order to solve the problem of proficiency, we’ve legislated away some creativity. But there’s room to create solutions for your building. What we have to do as [central office] administrators is listen carefully to what [principals] say works and get them talking to each other. That’s what I want to do. As long as everybody understands there’s not tons of money to do it with.

Notebook: Encouraging and facilitating communication among leaders is one thing you can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money, right?

Nunery: That’s what I’m getting at! We’re constrained, and I don’t know that it’s going to get any better.

Notebook: You’ve worked in banking, contracting, education, the NBA – how do you uncover creative energy here at the central office?

Nunery: Walking the halls. I talk to everybody. Security guards. People who are cleaning. Everybody! Folks will stand at the door and I say, come on in – there’s no force field. This is really important work. Testing integrity, financial management, all of it matters. But you also have to say it’s okay if you make mistakes – as long as they’re honest mistakes, not careless ones.

Notebook: If you stay in this position, how would you facilitate the kind of creative collaboration you’re talking about?

Nunery: Whosoever fills this job should look for deep collaboration with the business and nonprofit communities. The second thing is to do a thorough job of performance assessment and goal-setting, so I can sit down with someone and say, your job has this impact on somebody else’s. And the third thing is working with the SRC and the mayor’s office and the state.

We’ve been through a lot, and I feel it maybe more than anybody. But we can’t keep wringing our hands. We’ve got to get up off the floor. We’ve got to be resilient. All the things we tell kids they have to be – we’ve got to be.

Comments (27)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 7:32 am

Why did Nunery name names re: principals? He picked two principals at two elementary schools in well to do neighborhoods with very active parent groups (Meredith and McCall). Then he sited Central HS - well, that certainly isn't an "average" school. If these are the schools we are to emulate, then give all schools the same demographics! Last, he goes on about Ed Penn at Clemente. He is known as an incompetent bully who is all show.

This interview demonstrates how out of touch Nunery is with the SDP - he needs to go!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 7:01 am

Why is Nunery protecting and supporting Ed Penn? Penn is an incompetent, self serving principal. Clemente is a mess and it is on Penn. If this is an example of Nunery's leadership, he has to go. Then, the SRC needs to clean house - start with Self serving Penny Nixon and her friends including Bully Wayman, No experience Driver, LaTanya "do nothing" Miller, etc.

Submitted by The Laughing Cow (not verified) on January 9, 2012 11:13 pm

Please, please, please, tell us more about of Penelope and her friends............... Everyone wonders how LaTanya "do nothing, know nothing, sit on my fat ass" Miller got that promotion! What an idiot?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 4:33 pm

"Do nothing and know nothing, sit on my fat ass" Miller....an idiot! Wow! My guess is that the fat ass comment must be a figure of speech or you clearly don't know who you're referring to because her ass is far from being fat! Do nothing and know nothing....you must have your people confused!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 4:11 pm

Do nothing...know nothing...sit on her fat ass????? I'm not sure you have the right person. She's far from being fat, especially her ass and you obviously don't know the caliber of work she does.
And as for you...what do you do??? Why aren't you in her position? You may need to get your people straight because I'm pretty sure you have her confused with someone else!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 4:02 pm

Clearly you know nothing about LaTanya Miller or what she does in the office and has been doing since she's been in the office for the last 15+ years! Get your facts straight!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 1:37 pm

It was unprofessional of Nunery to highlight certain principles.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 3:03 pm

Nunnery principals

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 3:44 pm

principals?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 7, 2012 2:50 pm

Mr. Nunnery, May I ask a respectful question -- What about collaboration with teachers?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 2:05 pm

Nunery never worked K-12. His professional career is as a manager of mostly for profits. I can't imagine what advice he could have for a teacher. That said, we know Ackerman like to brag about her teaching experience and that certainly didn't help her build bridges.

Nunery should not have singled out schools/administrators. The schools he selected, other than Clemente, aren't "average" Philadelphia schools. How many students' families can afford to live in Old City/Center City (McCall) and Queen's Village (Meredith)? Very few. (Meredith parents were recognized in the Inquirer for making hundreds of dollars in donations after the latest round of cuts. Where I teach, the only one donating is teachers like myself who are volunteering our time, paper, resources, etc.) Highlighting Central is a joke. Pavel has been at Central since 1984 - he is not dealing with the array of issues we deal with in neighborhood schools. He has plenty of time to sit in his office and smoke his pipe. Clemente is a mess - the only people who think Clemente is working are Nunery and Ed Penn.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2012 11:57 pm

I do not agree. I am a teacher a Clemente under Penn's leadership. Real change is taking place. I have seen it, i feel it...ask the kids.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 4:18 am

Everyone I have spoken to says Clemente is a mess and Penn is incompetent. I guess this is Mr. Penn's slogan - "I've seen it, I feel it..."

Submitted by tofuni (not verified) on April 25, 2012 11:42 pm

You are a stooge under Penn's leadership. His verbal threat that he will ruin the careers of anyone who asks for voluntary transfer is outrageous. The union rep who sat by and said nothing when he said it is outrageous. He can play god with yet another turnover of staff next year (just ask the librarian, oh, no librarian). The professional teaching staff knows the mix of incompetence and his own insecurities means to stand and fight is a phyrric victory. The normal staff will leave while they still can with some sanity and dignity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2012 3:34 pm

"cultural competence" and "emotional intelligence" are more politically correct buzz words from someone who has never taught a day in his life. I agree, Mr. Nunery that we need people who can "take on the challenge" which is why you should resign immediately. As second-in-command you did nothing while Ackerman and the SRC ran this school district in the ground. If you had shown some guts by standing up to Archie and his horde we might be interested in having you stick around. Unfortunately you did nothing. Coming from the Edison group doesn't win you any points either. It shows us where your true intentions lie.

Submitted by Joe C (not verified) on January 8, 2012 10:27 am

This kind of creativity and collaboration that he's talking about is not the reality of the vast majority of teachers in this district. Rather a walkthrough team will spend 10 minutes in a room and say "you need to have x, y and z on the walls" and "make sure there's two constructed responses each week," etc. No one from the leadership in this district is saying, "Let's have a conversation about your practice." This shows either a disconnect on Nunery's part from what's actually happening in his schools, or lip service to a philosophy that he doesn't actually practice.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2012 9:44 am

Please, this guy is a dunce right out of the Ackerman mold--no more than a semi clown who has the hook up. A Cheney type, what more needs to be said?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 10, 2012 9:16 pm

Reading this article about what Nunnery suggests is exactly the opposite of what Linda Wayman, High School Regional Supt. does everyday. Her office and her walk through team are only about intimidation and useless reports that have no meaningful impact on student learning. They hinder principals and school staff instead of empowering and supporting them. If Nunnery was serious about what he said in this article, there is no way he could keep Wayman on. She has the same top-down, punish and intimidate model as Ackerman and he cannot claim to be different by leaving her in charge of high schools.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 5:25 am

Wayman is a long time friend of Penny Nixon - therefore, she is off any cut list. That said, Wayman's MO, as your wrote, is to bully, intimidate, etc. She is dictatorial and has been since she became a principal at Rhodes. High Schools are struggling more than ever yet Wayman gets to stay. Maybe Wayman is Nixon's "heavy" - "good cop/bad cop" thing. Whatever is going on, the Nixon/Wayman administrations are tearing apart schools rather than focusing on student learning. (The Wayman 7 step, 1960s lesson plan model is also repressive - it is Wayman's way or the highway. It is an easy "check off" for Wayman but nothing else.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 4:35 pm

This is why some people look for outsiders to lead the District. While Ackerman came from the outside, many of the worst upper level managers (i.e. Wayman) are homegrown and had nothing to do with Ackerman, other than coincidence. They hold their position the Philadelphia way: knowing the right people.

One reason people look outside Philly is that many of the obvious candidates inside the system are probably not good options. Wayman? Nixon?

One reason for this is that, over the years, the way to break into leadership of Philly schools was politics and nepotism, rather than being good at what you do. Thus, there aren't too many really talented leaders in the upper management of the SDP. (Take Heidi Ramirez, for example. She's the kind of person that would have been working for the District in a functional system. Instead, she worked outside the system, at Temple, while lots of really mediocre administrators actually ran the District. Instead of hire her, the District basically chased her out of town). When you either fail to promote or never hire good people in the first place, you aren't left with very many internal candidates to take over leadership of the system.

That's one reason we ended up with Ackerman -- there were very few serious applicants. Very few were willing to take on a system that carries the baggage of decades of fiefdom rule and nepotism. This creates two problems: few outstanding internal leadership candidates, and outside leaders who really want to make a difference are scared away from Philly.

Submitted by cmaerriol (not verified) on January 11, 2012 6:15 pm

Are you shi--ing me?? Latanya Miller can't possibly still have a job in these tight times. She does nothing, no she does less than nothing. She gets to work at 10 and is gone by 3, She is at lunch from 12 to 1:30. But I guess that is okay because she is in Penny Nixon's office. My question is why is Penny Nixon still here? She should be fired right along with Nunnery, Masch, Darden, and Ben Wright. Why is there a superintendent for Alternative Schools? Why does the Alternative region have an Instructional Support Officer.? What instructional support is offered?

As for the principals mentioned in this article, Penn is a joke. Everyone I know says that he is a bully and does not take responsibility for anything. The school is a joke. There is no vision, no communication and everyone wants out. Ask how many teachers have resigned , rather than to work there under his rule. You would be surprised. If Nunnery can be fooled this easily , he does not deserve his paycheck. Ed Penn practices the worst leadership there is. Everything is punitive with him. I hear that the morale is in the toilet. There is no trust on the leadership team and the teachers are constantly getting new rosters when he wants to punish someone. He will change the whole schedule.

Nunnery do not get into bed with Penn. You will get screwed!!!

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:18 pm

I am a teacher at Clemente. I hate it there. Teachers get memos everyday, and I do mean everyday.
Penn thinks that middle school children should walk thru the hallways absolutely SILENT. He knows nothing about the adolescent student. He is mean and nasty for no reason. He screams and hollers at the staff over the radio all the time. No one in their right mind would ever want to be in a school like this , with a leader like him.

As for the other teacher who claims to work there also, you are a liar is you say you see a positive change.

Submitted by tofuni (not verified) on April 25, 2012 11:38 pm

Stay, he will give you wonderful electronics. Leave, he will make sure all the wonderful memos will follow you in your file to the next school. Don't you know how many people at charter schools are begging him for a job under his leadership? ;-)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 8:28 pm

I really thought Dr. Nunery would make a difference. He has not put the time nor energy into managing the acts of Penny Nixon however, I do believe that he is making an attempt to address the budget crises. He is oblivious to the decisions made by Penny Nixon where most involve her friends. Dr. Nunery I suggest having a 10 - 15 minute conversation with HS principals or the unfortunate people who work in Academic Division 1 you will receive an earful. Wayman gets what she wants DOL Grant, SLC staff, etc. Many choose not to oppose her because of her well known relationship with Penny. As for Latanya, Nancy and Darienne everything listed above is true. Latanya casually enters 440 well after 9am without a care in the world with her "nasty" attitude. They haven't developed anything useful and quickly enlist support of others to do the work for them. Darienne rushes to and fro as if she is "busy". So who is left?? Joel Boyd, the supersized neck idiot, Lissa Johnson, a mini Wayman, Duran, well over his head, Karen, overwhelmed with no backbone, Caulk, the most genuine and knowledgeable of them all. If we all just wait they will all be gone. Penny WILL be replaced by the new Supt., the Asst. Supts. will have to interview for their position and will be replaced. The Deputies and Deputy Chiefs will be no more. Just wait.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 9:15 pm

Anyone who uses Penn as a positive reference is a misinformed fool. He doesn't know a thing. Wayman's bully performance is an orchestrated distraction from her ignorance. Have you had the misfortune of reading one of her memos? Professional grammar is not a strong área for her. Joel Boyd is nothing but an empty suit. He reminds you of Buzz Lightyear. He is arrogant without reason. Glad to hear he is working full time this year. He earned a full pay last year while working part time. And I use the term working very loosely.

Submitted by Fed Up! (not verified) on January 13, 2012 4:55 am

Someone please help me out here... What's with this fetish folks seem to have with Penny Nixon?! I'm just not understanding it... Every time I turn around, it's: Penny this; Penny that. My Goodness!!! All this hate exemplifies the whole crab in a barrel analogy... if getting to the top means you have to constantly watch your back for the others who aren't where you are trying to pull you back down, then I don't envy Penny at all. Can't we just respect that she is where she is for a reason? She has the credentials and a track record of success as a principal in, assistant regional superintendent for, and superintendent of the Northwest Region---the highest performing region of schools in the whole damn city. Is that not enough?

As for some of the others named, don't know them all, but for the ones I do know or know of through close contacts, I keep hearing the same things over and over about them too... Seems like no matter where the people in middle management (regions) and in the support roles in the central office come from, no one likes them. Well, I guess you just can't please everyone now can you?! As for this attack on LaTanya, I just can't get enough of it...she's a piece of work...whomever commented and gave her the name "do nothing" and the other one who said she just sits on her ass, way to go! See, the problem is, the SDP doesn't terminate anyone until the press goes after them...just think back to Arlene Ackerman and Estelle Matthews. No press is going after Miller, and they really don't have a reason to other than to probe whether the allegations that she comes in to work at 10am and is out by 2pm is true (stealing time, duh!). The whole thing about her being nasty is true; I can attest to that personally. That aside, this is one of those things where you have to make a judgment call...knowing that SDP does get rid of folks...it's either keep her where she is or ship her ass back to a classroom where she would be absolutely miserable and make everyone else miserable. So, you go with the lesser of two evils...the former...keep her downtown...where she can do less damage...and allow her to self-destruct as when a new superintendent is named, lots of heads will roll.

About the assistant superintendents, particularly Wayman and our "acting" superintendent, Nunery (and I really do mean acting): No one likes Wayman because she wrote up the little girl from Audenried-Hope Moffett. I would have written her up too if I were Wayman, but the difference would be, all of my Is and Ts would have been dotted and crossed, which Wayman didn't do. She wrote the girl up off of emotion, which is reflected in the 204; although she had iron-clad, solid facts, had she stuck to the script and removed the emotion, media attention or not, Moffett would have been toast. Maybe next time Linda, maybe next time! As for Nunery, he's just not even worth wasting breath on...half the stuff he's doing or rather not doing is just pathetic...he's living proof that affirmative action and the good ole' boy system is still alive and well. If he's going to be the next permanent superintendent, then I'm doing what Ackerman said on her way out---pulling my kid out of the SDP and putting them somewhere else. What an insult to all teachers and principals who worked hard and struggled that someone who has NEVER been in the classroom or let alone a school (except of course for the time when he was a student) gets to be your boss!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 13, 2012 5:46 am

You have some facts straight and others are off track. Wayman is despised because she is a bully who knows nothing. She only knows how to threaten, attack, and attempt to control everyone. She admits she knows nothing about content or instruction. She has not improved high schools - it is the whim of the moment and then attack for not following her (and her IOSs) ineffective, top down directives. The Moffett case is long gone - it is just another example of Wayman's ineptitude. And, by the way, Moffett was exonerated.

Penny Nixon was at Wagner - a school under investigation for cheating. She is the "good cop" with Wayman's "bad cop." Nixon is all about Nixon... (sounds like the discredited former president...) Nixon protects her friends and banishes her enemies. We've lost some excellent principals thanks to Nixon and Wayman.
The accomplishments of the NW Region had nothing to do with Nixon - she was there about a year.

LaTonya Miller does nothing and knows nothing. She spent one year teaching - thanks to her mother in law - and has done nothing since. It is an insult to all teachers that she has a position in curriculum. Make her return to the classroom and complete at least 5 solid years and demonstrate student "achievement."

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