Professional Development

Principal Programs Get $75 Million Boost from Foundation

By Christina A. Samuels — August 25, 2011 3 min read
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A residency program in Denver, and mentorship and leadership-development programs in Georgia’s Gwinnett County school system are among the projects getting a financial injection over the next five years from a new $75 million Wallace Foundation investment that is aimed at improving the pipeline leading to the principal’s office.

Educators generally agree that good principals are second only to good teachers in their positive influence on student learning. But research hasn’t yet answered the question of whether investing in solid principal training and support leads to achievement gains.

With the new funding program unveiled last week, the New York-based philanthropy is attempting to close the knowledge gap. The $75 million in grants will go to six school districts that are working on comprehensive methods to identify, train, evaluate, and support principals. The Wallace Foundation also supports coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning in Education Week.

Besides Denver and Gwinnett County, the other four districts to receive the funds are: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; New York City; and Prince George’s County, Md. The foundation will give each district between $7.5 million and $12.5 million, and, as a condition of the grants, the districts will match one-third of the grant amount with local funds.

About $21 million will be devoted to the first phase of the initiative, which will include $17 million to the districts, $3.5 million for independent research of the principal development efforts getting foundation support and their connection to student learning, and $850,000 for learning opportunities and expertise to be provided to the districts.

Selection Process

Will Miller, who became the second president of the Wallace Foundation in July, said in an interview yesterday that 90 districts were originally under consideration but were winnowed down to six. The foundation was looking for districts that already had in place rigorous requirements, high-quality principal training, and on-the-job supports for school leaders. But “even the best districts only have pieces of this,” Mr. Miller said.

Besides exploring the question of whether efforts to improve leadership can lead to higher student achievement, the program hopes to find out if successful principal-development strategies can be implemented on a large scale.

Mr. Miller said that the foundation intends to release several reports on its efforts, including one in the next 18 to 24 months. “We want to create more knowledge that can be used outside the six districts,” he said.

Tom Boasberg, the superintendent of the 79,000-student Denver district, said the grant will strengthen the school system’s nine-year-old principal fellowship program, which trains 15 potential leaders a year. The fellows work with veteran school leaders while taking classes for principal certification at the University of Denver.

The $12 million grant to that district will allow all the fellows to participate in a residency program at a school. Before the grant, the district wasn’t able to afford a residency for all the program participants.

The Wallace funding also will pay for mentors to support novice leaders when they are placed in their first jobs as principals or assistant principals, Mr. Boasberg said.

“The role of a school leader is one of the most complex and challenging leadership roles in any industry in the country,” Mr. Boasberg said. “Having an experienced mentor to help coach and guide is essential.”

Glenn Pethel, the director of leadership development for the 162,000-student Gwinnett district, north of Atlanta, said the grant will beef up the district’s current efforts, which include a leadership program for aspiring school leaders and a two-year-long mentorship program for novice principals. The district will receive $12.5 million.

“We want to extend what we do, we want to refine it, and we want to think more deeply,” Mr. Pethel said. He said the grant will allow the district “to ratchet up our practice to an even higher level.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2011 edition of Education Week as Foundation Gives $75 Million to Bolster Principal Training

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