Springfield Day School

Ella Lindon founded Springfield Day School when she was 33. Now, nearly 40 years later, the school is everything she dreamed. Nestled in a historic building in a quiet residential neighborhood, the private school has 100 students in preschool to eighth grade. The Springfield staff consists of Ella, her administrative assistant, a part-time secretary, two preschool teachers, nine classroom teachers (one in each grade), and teachers for music, PE, and art.

The school has very low attrition. Ella picks the students (and their families) herself. There is a lengthy application process, during which Ella interviews the children and families, and it is Ella who has the final say on admission. Families stay at Springfield Day because they feel that they have been specially selected from among many to join an elite group. They speak with pride when they say, “When Ella chose us to come here,” “Ella’s wonderful,” and “We would do anything for Ella.”

Springfield Day’s curriculum and programming reflect Ella’s particular biases, most notably her attitude toward technology. She has no use for it in her own life, and has begrudgingly found a place for it in the pre-K–8 curriculum. There are computers in each classroom connected to the Internet. While the older students use technology to create multimedia projects, the computers in the younger students’ classrooms sit mostly unused. But what is most shocking to new families is that the use of email at the school is strictly forbidden. Ella has often said that messages are communicated better and more accurately when people speak directly to each other. She also is an advocate of the “lost art of letter writing,” saying that the personal touch is more effective. As a result, parents who wish to communicate with staff or teachers must call or come to the school to talk to them, and communication from the school to families comes in the form of weekly printed newsletters or phone calls. The parents are even discouraged from exchanging email addresses with one another, though they confess in whispers that they do, because it makes arranging play dates easier.

Ella communicates with her staff entirely through handwritten notes. All day long, student runners take turns delivering communiqués from Ella, written on her signature heavy-bond, pale blue stationery. The notes may include words of praise, a comment about a student, or questions. Sometimes they are task-oriented: reminders that progress reports are due, requests for meetings, or questions about projects in process. In general, though, Ella doesn’t need to write very many task-oriented notes. Ella often brags about her faculty’s autonomy and her hands-off approach, saying that the staff have been there so long they know what is expected and when.

Most of the faculty have been with the school for 20 years or more; the newest hire joined the school 10 years ago. All were handpicked by Ella and are accustomed to her “management by note” method. The teachers all say they feel supported and often go to Ella with concerns, both school-related and personal. She knows them, their histories, and their families. She listens and offers advice, and helps them find the resources they need to address their concerns. Ella frequently treats the staff to lunch after conferences or other major events during the school year.

The first-grade teacher, Stacey, has announced she will retire this year. Ella has interviewed five potential replacements, all candidates in their 20s. When told about the technology restrictions at the school and Ella’s management by note, three of the candidates withdrew from the search, one declaring incredulously in the interview, “How do you get anything done without computers and email?”

Ella just shrugs. Her philosophy and method has worked for 40 years, and Springfield Day is thriving with a long waiting list for admission.

Please compose a response and address each set of questions.  Your response should be a minimum of two (2) paragraphs.

Questions

1. Where would you place Ella on Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid (Figure 4.1 -handout)?

2. Would you describe Ella as more task-oriented or relationship-oriented?

3. Why do you think Ella’s behavioral leadership approach has been successful for Springfield Day School?

Advanced Questions

4. Would you describe Ella as having a maternal orientation in her leadership behavior? Give examples to support your answer.

5. As new faculty come on board who have less experience than the current teachers, what are some obstacles they may encounter with Springfield Day’s management methods?

6. Ella is 73 and will retire at some point, but there is no succession plan in place. Do you think Ella should be replaced with an internal candidate who shares her leadership philosophies or with an outside candidate? What leadership behaviors should the ideal candidate have in order to continue the school’s success?

 
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