By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa Central School District Superintendent Oliver Robinson recently published a new book that focuses on providing a “practical roadmap” for effective educational leadership in modern times.
Robinson has been a superintendent for 17 years, 12 of those at Shen. He said the topics addressed in the book, “Naked in the Public Eye: Leading and Learning in the Era of Accountability,” concern issues he has come across throughout his entire career, though he decided to put them together as a book only around two years ago.
The title comes from the idea that leaders, particularly in the school system, often have to deal with the feeling of being undressed in front of an audience.
“When you think about leadership, it is very much a public process,” Robinson said. He went on to say that while it’s the job of any leader to take in feedback, often, the public feels like it knows someone personally through his or her status as a leader. Oftentimes, people see you as a position title, not a person,” he said, and one of his goals with the book is to illustrate the mental fortitude needed to survive in such a position.
Though the school districts all throughout the Capital Region differ in terms of size and demographics, Robinson said that the leadership roadmap he provides in his books may work well for all readers.
He acknowledged that while the issues faced by educators may differ in scale and scope, the challenges themselves, including the politicization of schools and performance gaps based on race and poverty levels, are similar in every district.
According to Robinson, three major components to leadership are inspiration, spirituality, and intellect. Effective leaders must be able to inspire others, and, on the spiritual side, Robinson says that the process of education must be for children must be a journey of perseverance. A lack of hope that education can provide growth puts the success of students at risk.
He also touched on the intellectual capabilities of leaders, who, he said, need to understand how to marshal all their resources to bring out not only the best parts of students, but also teachers.
Robinson admitted that while there is some amount of educational jargon included in his book, it’s intended to be accessible for everyone, not to be a bookend that collects dust on a shelf. At just over 100 pages, he said it would be easy enough to read the book cover to cover, but would also hopefully provoke reflective thought.
“I wanted to write a book that was manageable to the reader.”
When all’s said and done though, Robinson’s goal in teaching people to be more effective leaders stems from his desire to get schools back to being schools, not tools in a political chess game.
He criticized New York’s tendency of waiting to act until it’s clear what will happen to education on a federal level, and said that schools need to act now, quickly and pre-emptively, to clean up protocols and policies, and to start partnering with other organizations that can help schools fight the divisiveness in education caused by poverty, and a lack of support for kids.
“If you don’t have unwavering belief in the power of education, you’re not going to be effective, he said. “We must be champions for children. Period.”