The Rotten Rascals Guide To New School Leadership


I wrote this book over a two-year period between 2009-20011 while I was Head of School at Chelsea School in Silver Spring, Maryland. One of the best and most important positions I ever held. I was going to publish this book but today I decided to give it away for free. These pages are meant to entertain and evoke some stimulating conversation, some of which we may not agree with and that’s Okay. 


This is not a book about all the great work that comes from America’s colleges, universities, and schools of educational theory. It’s about the struggle that teachers and administrators go through every day in the real schools of America. This is a book about you and me and our hopes and dreams. It’s about the struggle to change a broken and sometimes failing educational system with the hope of shaping students’ lives in a way that is positive and meaningful. It’s about building soulful schools, mindful schools that are true learning communities where the voice of hope and reason is louder than the voice of horror and despair.

Projected Audience:

This is a book for school administrators, teachers, policy-makers, and anyone who cares about the future of education. It is geared towards future educators and administrators, as well as established professionals yearning to be better school leaders.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Real School

  1. The Epiphany to Lead

  2. PRIDE: Personal Respect and Individual Dedication to Excellence

  3. TEAM: Teach, Educate, Advocate and Mentor

  4. Street Themes

  5. Going to War

Part 2: Know Your Customer

  1. Being Kid Focused

  2. Human Engagement

  3. Advisory: Tony Maletto Story / Kevin’s Story

  4. Know Your Customer: EMO Kids

  5. No one is going to harm you!

Part 3: Leadership Basics

  1. Anima: Are you paying attention to the wrong stuff?

  2. Empower People to Lead: Courageous Conversations

  3. What do I need? What do I want?

  4. Face to Face

  5. Organizational Voice

  6. Soul of a Leader and Soul of an Organization

  7. I do my Best Work at Lunch

  8. Community Meetings

  9. Informal Advisory Team

  10. Change 100 things in 100 Days

  11. Drizzle Theory

  12. Building Your T.E.A.M.

  13. Being Present


From Part II: A School-Wide Advisory System

A long time ago, in a much different America, I was a 12 year old kid who hung out at the corner gas station in my neighborhood. The guy that owned the place was named Tony Maletta. He was a regular working guy; uneducated by today’s standards I suppose. He lived about two blocks from the gas station and he’d get up and walk to work and open up the shop every morning. At noon his wife would come by with a homemade lunch in a brown bag. He went to work and ran that place until the day that he died.

Like I said, it was a different America.

At least four or five generations of young men grew up at that gas station with Tony Maletta. It was the place to hang out when you were a teenager. We talked about girls, cars, family stuff, you name it. You’d start going when you were 11 or 12, idolizing the older kids because they could drive or grow a mustache. We even tried smoking cigarettes there because that was the thing to do back then.

We were there because Tony was there. He was a mentor. He was the other wise adult in our lives. If we talked about a girl in the derogatory and sometimes disgusting ways that teenage boys sometimes do, Tony would say, “Hey that’s somebody’s sister, or daughter, or cousin. You don’t talk about people like that.” If you were foolish enough to give him lip or cross the moral line in the sand that Tony kept watch over, he’d slam his hand down and slowly get up. Sometimes we’d want him to get up, just for the effect. He’d slowly walk over to you, grab you by the shoulders – I swear to god the guy had hands like steel claws – and he’d head-butt you.

Really. He’d head-butt you.

That was a lesson you only needed to learn once. The guy was so revered in the neighborhood and held in so much awe that the idea of disrespecting him was like disrespecting your parish priest, or even disrespecting God for that matter. He had an influence over your life like no other adult.

On Friday nights we’d go to the church dance. Before you went to the dance, you’d stop in at Tony’s. It was a ritual. You had to buy peppermint gum. It was always peppermint because, hey, you never knew – you might need fresh breath that night. You’d stop at Tony’s and you’d have the courage to get up and dance with the girl that you’d been staring at for weeks – Tony could pump you up like that, make you believe in yourself. The last thing he’d say to you as you headed out for the dance was, “Be a gentleman tonight. And make sure you keep your hands to yourself.”

Tony was my advisor. Even though the term or the idea hadn’t been invented yet, that’s what he was. He was the other wise adult in my life.

I believe so strongly in advisory that if I was hired by a school that didn’t have an advisory system, I’d walk right out the door. (more about advisory later)

Excerpt: From Part III: Leadership Basics

So far we’ve talked about experimental music and modern art – now let’s talk about opera. There’s an old Italian expression that is essential to our discussion of building transcendent school communities and soulful schools – anima.

Anima means soul, passion, fire. It’s a phrase that is shouted by audiences when an opera singer performs an aria that is so uplifting, so moving, that it touches the souls of those present. Anima means to touch the soul of another – to affect their very spirit. When this is achieved through the art and skill of the singer, the audience responds with an outpouring of emotion – anima! anima! anima!

When the singer fails to reach this high standard of anima, there is also an outpouring from the audience – not praise in this case, but usually rotten fruit and vegetables.

You want a school with anima, with soul and passion – you want teachers and classrooms with anima, burning with excitement and engagement. You want students with anima, who yearn and thirst for knowledge. What you don’t want is to have to sweep up rotten tomatoes every day.

It’s not the posters on the wall, the books on the shelves, or the computers – it’s a feeling, a sensation. I bring visitors into my school every week, and no matter who they are, or what day it is, or what lessons they observe, it’s always the same. They feel something – a vibe, a sensation of safety, learning, and excitement – in short: anima.

I’ve been in schools that were, I’m sad to say, soulless. Some do a decent job of getting kids to pass state standard exams, move them on to college or trade school, and achieve what is required by the powers that be, all without anima. Most, however, do not. Most are like a tour through Dante’s Inferno, where fear, hopelessness, and despair are real and tangible entities.

So how do you create this? How do you construct something as intangible as anima? They don’t teach this in grad school – there’s no seminar called Anima for Beginners. It happens through a series of beliefs, policies, and practices that all converge on one goal – the soulful school.

Elements of the Soulful School (more bout this later)

Paying Attention to the Right Stuff

Being Present

Empowering People to Lead

Building Your Team

School-wide Advisory System

Knowing Your Customer

Human Engagement

Identifying Internal and External Strengths and Weaknesses

Making Connections