School & District Management

Group Offers Executive Training for Principals

By Jeff Archer — July 26, 2005 3 min read

What can the Cuban missile crisis, the Ford Motor Co., and Starbucks Coffee teach about school leadership? Principals across Massachusetts are about to find out.

The Bay State has adopted a leadership-development program that borrows heavily from the military and corporate worlds to train about two-thirds of its urban school principals over the next five years.

The two-year course for midcareer principals, which began this month, was designed by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based group that promotes standards-based education.

Individual districts elsewhere piloted the program, which took the center six years and $10 million to create. Targeted at urban schools, the Massachusetts effort is the first in which the program has become part of a statewide initiative.

John C. Fryer , the former superintendent of the Duval County, Fla., schools, shows off his "war room" of data this past spring.

With units on strategic planning, team building, and change management, the course is taught through computer simulations, seminars, online tutorials, and case studies about businesses, the armed forces, and schools. The participating administrators are grouped into cohorts that go through the training together.

“It’s exactly what they need at this period of time,” David P. Driscoll, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, said at a July 14 press event here announcing the plan. “They need the theory and the practice. They need those competencies that aren’t just true in the military and business, but also are true in education.”

Principals and district administrators in 12 urban Massachusetts districts began training this month on how to deliver the program to other working school leaders. By 2010, state officials expect 370of the state’s 528 principals in urban districts will have completed the course.

Projected to cost $4.5 million over that time, the effort is to be paid for by a combination of state and federal money.

Not ‘How to Keep School’

As part of the initiative, Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., has created a new Ph.D. program to allow those who go through the program to earn a doctorate by completing additional work. Other Massachusetts universities are considering similar arrangements, state officials said.

Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, said his group based its leadership training on models in other sectors after finding few exemplary ones in public education.

“When we looked at administrator training in the U.S., it was ‘how to keep school.’ It was how to keep the organization running,” he said. “From our point of view, that wasn’t the challenge at all. The challenge was how to produce enormous increases in student achievement at no increase in cost.”

Four philanthropies underwrote the design and testing of the center’s regimen: the Broad Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the NewSchools Venture Fund, and the Stupski Foundation.

With the launch of the venture in Massachusetts, the national center is spinning off its training course as a separate, for-profit enterprise called the National Institute for School Leadership. During two years of field testing, the institute existed as a program within the nonprofit center.

John C. Fryer, who recently stepped down as the superintendent of the Duval County, Fla., public schools, is the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based institute. (“Air Force General Leaves Fla. School District Flying High,” May 4, 2005.)

Mr. Fryer, also a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force, said he was working to expand the institute’s training course into a handful of other states.

“A lot of states with high-stakes accountability realize that there hasn’t been enough investment out there in executive training for principals,” he said.

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