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For Fellows, blending theory and practical application propels new perspectives

Three Broad Fellows at a table, in discussion

In the Fellowship for Public Education Leadership, senior education leaders are gaining new management frameworks – and leaning into the opportunity to apply those learnings in their school systems. 

The Fellowship, an executive education program for school system leaders at The Broad Center at the Yale School of Management (TBC at SOM), was designed to accelerate the leadership and management capabilities of superintendents, CEOs, and cabinet-level leaders in school systems across the country. Fellows travel to the Yale SOM campus four times over a 10-month period, where they build bonds with their small cohort, hone their own leadership approach, and consider how to implement practices that reduce inequities in student outcomes.

As the new year kicks off, leaders in public school systems are deeply focused on making important decisions about how to best use available resources to advance student outcomes, and weighing various implications for their school community. They are especially focused on directing financial resources as the influx of federal pandemic relief spending comes to a close this academic year. The second week of the Fellowship, held in mid-January 2024, blended education perspectives with lessons gleaned from the world of business, challenging Fellows to think about how to manage resources to achieve outcomes for students, families, and communities. The Broad Center uses its distinct approach of integrating core content and expertise from Yale SOM faculty and real-world practitioner perspectives to enrich the Fellows’ understanding of the dynamics of successful school system leadership. One program learning objective is for Fellows to explore new ideas, tools, and frameworks to answer the question: “How can I better manage teams and resources strategically, based on needs, and effectively implement meaningful initiatives and achieve outcomes?” 

Case in point: a collaborative session between Thomas Steffen, associate professor of accounting at Yale SOM, and Broad alum Jason Willis (TBR 2008-10), a former school system chief financial officer, and currently clinical professor of public policy at University of the Pacific and senior advisor at WestEd, supporting the agency’s work in school finance, state policy, and complex policy implementation. The multi-part session aimed to equip leaders with frameworks around managerial controls and resource and budgeting tradeoffs, using examples from the business world in addition to a new education-specific case study developed by Steffen and Willis, along with the Yale SOM Case Study team, for TBC at SOM. 

Three Broad Fellows at a table outside, conversation gesturing
Fellows in classroom, talking

Steffen started by leading an interactive discussion about managerial controls – a system of policies and procedures meant to strengthen alignment between individuals’ behavior and their organization’s strategic vision and goals, particularly in complex, decentralized organizations. The group discussed connections between theoretical approaches to designing management structures in large organizations and a real-life example from a well-known retail company. One of the key takeaways from this session is a framework that illustrates the three components of managerial controls: 1) delegated decision authority; 2) monitoring and measurement; 3) compensation and rewards; as a three-legged stool. The stool metaphor symbolizes how these three components must remain in balance and should a manager fail to consider any one of the three legs, in practice, the system will fail.

The resonance and applicability of the session was a surprise for some Fellows. Joe Luft, chief of educator development at New York City Public Schools, said, “I enjoyed this session much more than I expected. The framework was clear and very useful to shape my thinking about how I lead and manage my own team – and I plan to share with others in our district.” 

The interactive nature of the sessions in the Fellowship and ability to connect deeply with a diverse set of peers is a critical component of the program. “The opportunity to discuss and make sense of both the concepts and applicability to our systems was incredibly helpful. I appreciated the space to make sense in smaller groups and spar on ideas, then bring those ideas together in the large group setting,” reflected Rodolfo Elizondo, chief instructional officer at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools.

Later in the week, the Fellows continued their examination of the concepts of managerial controls, as well as making and communicating resource trade offs. The group examined two cases from the business world – an automotive plant and a toy company – to delve into the real-world complexities of cost behavior, strategic trade-offs, high-quality budgeting processes and effective communication among departments. Led by Steffen and Willis, the Fellows then applied these perspectives to an education-focused case study, looking at budgeting, communication, and managerial challenges at a mid-size urban school district. After exploring the issues raised in the case as a group, the education leaders broke into small groups to role play and debrief additional scenarios, pushing them to apply theoretical and practical lenses from the previous days. 

The combination of managerial theory, examples from outside of education, and connections to the educational setting can be a powerful tool for forging new ways of thinking and building different leadership capabilities. 

“Thinking about this topic outside of a public education context helped me to see some of my own blind spots. It was especially helpful to discuss the aspects of the retail case and then to have the opportunity to transfer that back into thinking about the educational setting,” said Jacqueline Costales, division director of curriculum and instruction at the New Mexico Public Education Department. “This week was exactly why I wanted to participate in the Fellowship.”