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Published in Print: April 4, 2001, as Foundation Hopes Small Grants Spur Novel Leadership Programs

Foundation Hopes Small Grants Spur Novel Leadership Programs

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School districts, states, and universities can tap a new source of money for the improvement of school leadership across the country.

The Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds was scheduled to announce this week that it would award up to $2.5 million in small grants for the development of such programs. Word of the new grants came as the New York City-based philanthropy announced it also would underwrite a detailed study of superintendents' jobs and a national poll of school administrators.

The foundation is aiming to make the process of securing the grants less cumbersome than such applications typically are. Applications must be filed electronically at the foundation's Web site, and grants worth $5,000 to $50,000 each will be awarded starting immediately. Awards will be made until Nov. 30.

According to Mary Lee Fitzgerald, the director of education programs for the funds, the goal is for the small grants to propel dialogue and innovation in developing better school leaders. The foundation will award the grants under its Ventures in Leadership program.

Last year, the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds made school leadership one of its chief focuses, dedicating up to $150 million to a Leaders Count initiative to promote a national movement toward better stewardship of schools.

Another grant the foundation recently awarded will focus on improving district-level leadership in urban centers.

The three-year, $1.2 million grant will allow the American Association of School Administrators to contract with researcher Robert K. Yin of the Cosmos Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to produce 15 case studies of superintendents in urban districts.

Those studies will examine how urban superintendents spend their time, make decisions, and use a variety of skills. More knowledge about the field may lead to better training for administrators, said Judy Seltz, the director of planning and communications for the AASA, based in Arlington, Va.

"The craft of the superintendency is not well understood," she said. "That's what we're trying to get at." Ms. Seltz added that her association might hold regional meetings about the case studies' findings and build training programs using what is learned.

Benjamin Canada, the superintendent of the 56,000-student Portland, Ore., schools, was on the committee that planned the AASA's grant application. In his experience as an urban educator and as the president of the association, Mr. Canada said in a statement, he sees the urban challenge as the greatest one faced by American schools.

"We are excited by the opportunity made possible by this grant to extend our contributions to the leadership arena," he said. "Our nation's school system leaders know that leadership is a pressing issue if we are to provide quality education for all of our children."

The upcoming case studies of urban superintendents might provide some guideposts as the profession examines itself on a national scale, said Lee Mitgang, a spokesman for the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds.

"We expect some very good information about what they do and how they do it. The hope is that it could make up the stuff of future curricula and professional development for future leaders," he said.

Separately, the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds awarded a $612,000 grant to Public Agenda, a nonprofit opinion-research organization based in New York City, for surveys of 500 principals and 500 superintendents over the next 18 months. The surveys will examine problems in the field, and will ask how various policy reforms might affect the school leaders' jobs.

Vol. 20, Issue 29, Page 6

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