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7 Questions on Leadership with David Krakoff

Name: David Krakoff

Title: Principal/Head of School

Organisation: Midland Innovation @ Technology Charter School

David Krakoff has served in school leadership positions for the past 16 years, including as a building principal for the nine. During his principalships, his schools all have all seen increases on state assessments, improved student attendance rates, and vastly reduced rates of student discipline. In 2017, David was one of 10 middle school principals selected for a case study by the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) because of his team's strategic plan for improvement and the data that resulted. Currently, David serves as the principal and head of school at Midland Innovation & Technology Charter School and has helped lead the second-year high school to earn certification by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools as a high-quality charter school.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope David's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

It's one thing to have a strategic vision for an organization. It's another thing altogether to develop systems to support the pursuit of the vision and to align all stakeholders in the work of achieving the vision. There are always barriers to the work and as leaders we must identify them and then strategically work to mitigate them.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I worked under a superintendent of schools as a teacher who called me into his office and encouraged me to pursue my principal certification. He told me he saw a gift in me that would allow me to, "paint with a wider brush." Dr. James C. Manley explained to me that it's one thing to affect a classroom of students and an entirely different thing to work to empower and strengthen a large group of people, both staff and students. He challenged me that to a real leader that I had commit to building capacity in as many people as I could. That discussion changed the trajectory of my career. I taught high school English for nine years and coached high school basketball and was even named Western Pennsylvania's coach of the year in 2007 before pursuing school administration. It became my guiding force to always to ty to make life better for as many as I could because I learned that building capacity in others is how leadership is measured.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Prioritize. I remind myself every morning of my why. In my field, I place what's best for kids first and will always reset my daily agenda when something that matters a lot to students' well-being, safety, and growth surfaces. Also, I refocus every morning on my most vital function, which is serving as the instructional leader on campus. I have the greatest impact on our school when I am in classrooms and am an active instructional coach working to help teachers grow their craft so that they engage students with meaningful, authentic, high-level learning activities that develop students as critical thinkers. Students in our nation's schools often produce work that lacks the depth required of demonstrating mastery of standards. Principals must directly lead instruction and learning on a campus as the lead teacher for staff and students so that student products reach the analytical and knowledge utilization levels that demonstrate true mastery of learning standards.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

To peel back the onion. Rather than rushing to judgment or opinion, we have to listen to people when they have setbacks to find the root cause. It often isn't because they're faulty as a person but rather that they are struggling with something that is affecting all areas of their being. It's important to see people's strengths, put them in position to use their strengths, and to have empathy in helping them to manage setbacks.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Why We Win," By Bill Packer. It's a compilation of chapters that tell the stories of some of the most successful coaches in sports history. Every chapter highlights a different coach's path that led to greatness and includes their most successful practices and strategies in leading teams and staffs. The book brings forward so many powerful examples of transformational leadership that occurred because servant leaders put the whole before any individual and developed a specific culture. The chapter reveal a consistent trend in that an organization's and a person's habits if consistent lead to success. It's all about daily habits and actions, not merely a mission or vision statement.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Remind yourself regularly of your purpose, your vision, and your character. Then think about how you're spending your time and your actions. Make sure that your time and actions align with your purpose, vision, and character. If they're not, you're not staying true to yourself, and if you aren't authentic, any success won't be sustainable.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

It's so important to treat people with dignity regardless of circumstances. When I was managing a staff member who was struggling and seemed to be on the brink of termination, I learned a lot I didn't know when holding a transparent, honest talk with him. By allowing him to share why he was struggling and having input into a plan for improvement that included goals, timeline, action steps, and metrics to be used in measuring success, we developed a trust and working partnership in which we were both invested in his growth. He went on to become one of our highest performing staff members. It's important to be measured, objective, and strategic rather than emotional when leading.

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