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School Visitor Pass

By Karen Quanbeck

When I’ve introduced myself as an Achievement Director in the past, sometimes it results in furrowed brows and a question: “Is that like an Athletic Director?”

Nope. Achievement Directors are part of the School Innovation and Effectiveness Team, a name that is a mouthful and also requires a bit of explanation. The existence of Achievement Directors starts with a belief. We have a belief that great leaders make a difference in a school, second only to teachers. A highly skilled principal impacts school climate and culture, fostering a community where students want to learn and teachers want to work. Great principals model and embrace high expectations, setting the stage for what happens in classrooms across a school. The job of a principal is complex and challenging: one must be a strong instructional leader, a savvy business manager, a community liaison and leader, and most importantly, someone who gets up each morning because students matter more than anyone and anything else.

Holding the belief that having the very best leader in a school matters, Achievement Directors recruit, hire, supervise and support principals. Put simply, Achievement Directors grow leaders in order to improve schools. This work can take many forms. School visits might include looking at recent student data and work to assess instruction, problem-solving a tricky student behavior situation, planning an upcoming budget meeting, or discussing how to best support a new teacher. An Achievement Director might connect one principal with another to share ideas and strategies, he might utilize “red phone status” to curriculum colleagues, she might meet with budget partners to pave the way for an innovative idea. In the last year, one exciting shift is the focus on helping leaders establish the conditions necessary to create more engaging and authentic student experiences in classrooms. As leaders and teachers are empowered to consider innovative ideas, implementing them requires a different kind of support. It’s some of the most inspiring work, and it’s the reason many got into education: to deeply engage students in learning.

Personally, the recent conversations regarding shifts in education and instructional practice resonate deeply with me not only as an educator but as a mom. I know now that my own two kids, ages 12 and 15, will have the opportunity to have fun while wrestling with complex concepts, to solve problems that don’t have clear answers, to work in groups on a project so engaging, they cannot wait to get back to class. It’s an exciting time to be an educator, with a recognition that our students, our own children, are ready to dive deeply into fascinating content, to be engaged in creative learning experiences, and to connect what they are learning about in the classroom to experiences in their own community.

Karen Quanbeck is Chief of Schools, Elementary, Jefferson County School District. Questions for this guest writer or suggestions for future guest writers should be sent in to