School & District Management

What’s Next for Principal Apprenticeships? 3 Things to Know

By Evie Blad — July 25, 2023 2 min read
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Plumbers, builders, and ... principals?

For many, the notion of apprenticeships stirs mental images of tradespeople learning their craft under skilled, experienced mentors.

But advocates for grow-your-own programs in schools say apprenticeships could also strengthen principal preparation while opening up a new pool of potential candidates.

The effort got a big boost recently when the U.S. Department of Labor approved “K-12 principal” as a qualifying occupation for federal apprenticeship programs.

Here’s what comes next.

What’s new: Federal approval frees up new funding

The Labor Department’s July 10 approval of the principal apprenticeship designation came at the request of education leaders in North Dakota, who will soon launch a program in their state.

The principal apprenticeship effort follows the rapid scaling up of federally registered teacher apprenticeship programs, which have expanded to at least 18 states since that occupation first received federal apprenticeship approval in 2022.

On-the-job training for principals isn’t a new concept. Rhode Island, for example, is known for a principal residency program that helps train future leaders on site in schools.

But the apprenticeship designation frees up streams of state and federal funding for principal-preparation programs. That could help cover the cost of tuition, books, and even supportive services like child care.

Such supports eliminate a huge barrier for talented teachers who may not want to take on additional student loan debt to climb the career ladder, said David Donaldson, the founder and managing partner of the National Center for Grow Your Own, which helped North Dakota with its application.

What’s next: The first state plans to launch a principal apprenticeship program

North Dakota plans to become the first state with a principal apprenticeship program as soon as this fall. It will fund the program with its share of Every Student Succeeds Act Title II funding, which is targeted at preparing school leaders.

North Dakota leaders hope to use the federal apprenticeship designation to qualify the program for additional state and federal funds in the future, said Laurie Matzke, assistant superintendent at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

How it will work: A state university will partner with a cluster of districts to fund apprenticeship spots. Principal candidates will spend at least a year working as an assistant principal while they complete graduate coursework in school leadership. The result: Incoming principals with more real-world experience than a candidate would receive through a traditional program with a short-term practicum.

“We believe this is a way to not only have more principals but more highly effective principals,” State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.

Down the road: Any state can apply to create a principal apprenticeship plan

The new federal designation cleared the way for any state to create a principal apprenticeship program similar to North Dakota’s and apply for federal grants to fund it, said Donaldson.

The National Center for Grow Your Own website had record traffic the day the designation was announced, he said, much of it from leaders in other states who are interested in apprenticeship possibilities.

The center, which helped popularize teacher apprenticeships, plans to work with North Dakota to develop a playbook other states can use to develop the principal model.


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