On NBA Coaches and Urban District Superintendents

Quick: which NBA coach has been in his job longer than any other active coach?

Here's a hint: his is the team that consistently outperforms expectations, and often outperforms every other team in the league.

It's also the team with the reputation for doing more with less -- fewer superstars than, say, the Warriors, or the Cavaliers -- even than the Clippers.

It's Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. "Pop" has led the Spurs the more championships in recent years than any other team, and has commanded the respect of the league in doing so.

Meanwhile: which urban California school district is consistently considered the most innovative and successful in producing strong student outcomes, even facing the challenges that come with size and diversity of student backgrounds?

Here's another hint: it's the district whose superintendent has been in his role for 15 years.

Here at Spotlight, we're just getting to know Long Beach Unified Superintendent Chris Steinhauser, as we collaborate on the "Digital College Counselor." Even in a short time, though, we've gotten a sense for what enables a long-tenured leader to achieve success. Here's what we've noticed:

  • Established processes throughout the district
  • Mutual respect between Chris and his many stakeholders, including staff, students and families
  • Trust -- the kind that comes from seeing challenges through, beyond the point that others often give up
  • Perhaps most of all, vision -- a vision that looks well beyond the end of whatever school year the district happens to be in, and that is very difficult to imagine for someone who's new to a leadership role -- or who may be worried about being fired 

Read about Gregg Popovich, and you'll note many of the same priorities: established processes; mutual respect and trust; a long-term vision.

Up here in Northern California, we're not supposed to be Spurs fans, but we're rooting for them -- and for Pop -- because of what they represent. And of course, we're definitely rooting for Chris and LBUSD to continue their successful run.