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Abstract: In August, 2002, Melody Johnson, the deputy superintendent of the Providence, Rhode Island School District, was hastily appointed acting superintendent in the wake of the resignation of her predecessor and close colleague Diana Lam. Lam and Johnson together had embarked, over the previous three years, on an ambitious reform plan to upgrade the low-performing system. Despite some indicators of improvement, however, Johnson knew that there remained significant resistance to the changes--as evidenced, in part, by a bitter contract dispute recently settled with the system's teachers. This case describes the challenge facing Melody Johnson as she sought to gain rank-and-file support for reform, in the immediate months after her appointment as superintendent in her own right. It focuses on specific steps that she considered to gain that support, without compromising reforms including, radically, a day in which classes would be cancelled so that she and others could address the teaching force as a whole.
Learning Objective: This public leadership case is designed to highlight the choices and techniques of "adaptive leadership", as described in the work of Kennedy School professor Ronald Heifetz, "Leadership Without Easy Answers" (Belknap Press, September 1994).