Leadership Characteristics and Practices in South Carolina Charter Schools

Zena Rudo, AIR
Mark A. Partridge, Florida State University

Charter school stakeholders in South Carolina expressed interest in understanding the leadership characteristics and practices of charter school leaders across the state. Stakeholders were especially interested in how charter school leaders spend their work hours, what challenges the leaders face, and who influences policies in the charter schools.

Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast helped develop an online survey of characteristics and practices that was administered by the South Carolina Department of Education to leaders of all charter schools in South Carolina. Leaders at 40 of the state’s 66 charter schools—one per school—responded to the survey. This report describes the process for developing the leadership survey and provides descriptive results of the survey.

The key findings on the characteristics of the charter school leader respondents are:

  • Seventy-five percent were White, 65 percent were female, and 93 percent had at least a master’s degree.
  • Eighty-eight percent had six or more years of leadership experience in education or another field, and 52 percent had two or fewer years of leadership experience in charter schools.
  • The leaders’ salaries had no obvious link to their leadership experience.
  • Implementing innovative practices and creating a certain school culture or climate were the highest ranked motivations for becoming a charter school leader.

The key findings on time management, challenges, and influences on policy are:

  • On average, charter school leaders reported working 60 hours a week, although leaders of charter schools in their first year of operation averaged 69 hours.
  • Leaders reported spending the most time each week on activities related to communication with families and on school regulations and policies, and they reported spending the least time on lesson planning and personally providing professional development to staff.
  • More than 50 percent of leaders reported spending time each day on school safety and communication with families.
  • The majority of leaders reported being more frequently challenged by state education agency requirements and services and sponsor (called an authorizer in some states) involvement than by other challenges but being rarely or never challenged by staffing issues and board intervention.
  • Charter school leaders agreed that school staff had more influence over policies related to classroom instruction, academic guidance, athletics, and student assessment than did the leaders. Also, the leaders reported that charter school board members had the most influence over board membership policies and that board members had little influence over other school policies.