NOVEMBER 18, 1993
JOHN J. GABARRO
Thurgood Marshall High School
On July 15, David Kane became principal of the Thurgood Marshall High School, the newest of the six high schools in Great Falls, Illinois. The school had opened two years earlier amid national acclaim for being an important breakthrough in inner-city education. Among its many features, the school was specially designed and constructed for the "house system" concept. Marshall High's organization was broken down into four "houses," each of which contained 300 students, a faculty of 18, and a housemaster. The Marshall complex was designed so that each house was in a separate building connected to the "core facilities"1 and other houses by an enclosed outside passageway. Each house had its own entrance, classrooms, toilets, conference rooms, and housemaster's office. (See Exhibit 1 for the layout.)
Kane knew that Marshall High was not intended to be an ordinary school. It had been hailed as a major innovation in inner-city education, and a Chicago television station had made a documentary about it shortly after it opened. Marshall High had opened with a carefully selected staff of teachers; many were chosen from other Great Falls schools and at least a dozen had been especially recruited from out-of-state. Indeed, Kane knew his faculty included graduates from several East and West Coast schools such as Stanford, Yale, and Princeton, as well as several of the very best midwestern schools. Even the racial mix of students had been carefully balanced so that African-Americans, whites, and Hispanics each constituted a third of the student body (although Kane also knew— perhaps better than its planners—that Marshall's students were drawn from the toughest and poorest areas of the city). The building itself was also widely admired for its beauty and functionality and had won several national architectural awards.
Despite these careful and elaborate preparations, Marshall High School was in serious difficulty by the time Kane became its principal. It had been wracked by violence the preceding year, having been closed twice by student disturbances and once by a teacher walkout. It was also widely reported (although Kane did not know for sure) that achievement scores of its ninth and tenth grade students had actually declined during the last two years, while no significant improvement could be found in the scores of eleventh and twelfth graders' tests. Marshall High School had fallen far short of its planners' hopes and expectations.
1 The core facilities included the cafeteria, nurses' room, guidance offices, the boys' and girls' gyms, the offices, the shops, and
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Professor John J. Gabarro prepared this case. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. This case is a revised and redisguided version of “Robert F. Kennedy High School,” HBS No. 474-183. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 1993 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to www.hbsp.harvard.edu/educators. This publication may not be digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.
Thurgood Marshall High School
An athletic man who stood over 6 feet 4 inches tall, David Kane was born and raised in Great Falls, Illinois. His father was one of the city's first African-American principals; thus Kane was not only familiar with the city but with its school system as well. After serving a tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Viet Nam, Kane decided to follow his father's footsteps and went to...