'Neutron Jack' to do business in New York

24th January 2003 at 00:00

New York has enlisted legendary executive "Neutron Jack" Welch in its drive to make its education system the image of a lean, mean business.

Mr Welch, the hard-driving executive credited with revitalising the fortunes of industrial giant, General Electric, will be training headteachers and lead the city's schools advisory panel.

The former chief executive won the "neutron" tag for his aggressive management style. His new, so-called Leadership Academy for heads, due to open its doors this summer, will be modelled on his notoriously demanding GE management training scheme.

He shows no signs of changing his tough-talking style. Heads got a taste of what is in store for them at a recent press conference. "We used to say at the corporation, 'any one of you jerk managers who've got a dull crowd hanging around with you don't deserve your job'," said Mr Welch. "Well, we'll say that to principals."

The education authority is also emulating Welch's ruthless firing practices. At GE, he was famous for identifying the worst 10 per cent and culling them. In the same vein, New York schools chancellor Joel Klein has pledged to sack the 50 lowest-performing principals.

However, the plan to sack heads has met fierce protests, forcing Mr Klein to send a placatory message to 1,200 heads last week, assuring them, "no actions will be taken without a full opportunity for the affected individual to respond".

The initiative is not the first time business has helped US heads. Ohio's Leadership Academy set up in 1999 for heads, hired Procter amp; Gamble chairman Joseph Murphy as a director.

Mr Murphy, now professor of education leadership at Vanderbilt University, said business leaders had a lot to teach heads: "Lessons of leading people; how to make tough decisions; how to have a sense of mission; and how to hold course on the issues.

"Currently, education leadership doesn't have anything to do with education or leadership - there's a crying need to change that," said Murphy, adding heads got too bogged down in bureaucracy.

But Gerald Tirozzi, director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and former schools minister under President Clinton, doubted corporate techniques offered the answer.

"Principals' role is much more complex (than business managers') - they're responsible for everything from safety and security and reading, writing and arithmetic to Aids education."

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