Education Funding

Efforts to Groom Principal Talent Get New Infusion of Cash

By Denisa R. Superville — October 02, 2015 4 min read

The American Express Foundation is awarding nearly $2.5 million to support five principal preparation and training programs in the foundation’s first major foray into education leadership philanthropy.

The winners are a diverse group that includes a state education department, a school district, a state principals and assistant principals association, and nonprofits that have long focused on improving preparation and support for school leaders.

Timothy J. McClimon, the president of the American Express Foundation, said the foundation’s expansion into K-12 leadership was an extension of its leadership development work in other areas of the nonprofit sector, including organizations that focus on social services and humanitarian efforts. The foundation has given to K-12 efforts in the past, including the New York City-based Harlem Children’s Zone and the Virginia-based Communities in Schools.

Supporting the Principal Profession

The American Express Foundation is investing $2.5 million in a diverse array of organizations working to improve the supply and retention of principals.

  • Learning Forward, a Texas-based nonprofit, will work with the Arizona Department of Education to provide leadership training to 70 principals and 10 principal supervisors in 10 Phoenix-area school districts. The group will develop a field guide.
  • The Alabama State Department of Education will expand its leadership initiative to 71 additional principals in six high-poverty districts.
  • Arlington Independent School District in Texas will expand its in-district principal pipeline program by focusing on assistant principals, teacher leaders, and other aspiring principals.
  • New York City Leadership Academy will work with 50 aspiring principals in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut who will participate in a summer induction program, be matched with mentors, and take part in a 10-month blended residency component.
  • The North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association will extend its ongoing leadership initiative to support 135 early-career principals and assistant principals to reduce turnover.

Source: The American Express Foundation, Education Week

The seeds for the new principals program were planted last year when McClimon attended an education conference, during which participants discussed STEM education, teacher training, and education reform. McClimon said he noticed that there was very little said at the conference about school leaders—principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and other administrators.

Working with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the foundation issued calls for proposals in the spring. More than 70 districts, state education agencies, and nonprofits responded. The programs will be funded over a period of three years.

“We are humble about this, in that we don’t think we are going to fix the whole school system,” McClimon said. “We can only focus on the organizations that we are supporting. But if they are able to develop these programs...scale them, share best practices, which would potentially help other districts and other organizations, …there will be a snowball kind of effect.”

Diverse Recipients

Among the array of grant winners is Learning Forward, a Texas nonprofit that will work with the Arizona Department of Education to provide training to principals and principal supervisors in 10 Phoenix-area school districts and the Alabama State Department of Education, which will expand its recruitment and retention efforts to dozens of principals in six additional high-poverty districts.

The foundation is also backing the Arlington Independent School District, in Arlington, Texas, to support its in-district principal pipeline program, and the New York City Leadership Academy, which will provide intensive training and coaching for aspiring principals in multiple districts in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.

The North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association also won a grant to bolster its ongoing efforts to support and retain principals who are new to the career. Shirley Prince, the group’s executive director, described the program as rigorous and research-based and said the group was “thrilled” to be one of the recipients.

“We know that there are proven, research-based practices that are associated with effective leadership, and we wanted to guide these principals through applying them directly to their schools,” Prince said. “And, as they are applying them, they are not only improving their schools, but they are internalizing the practices and becoming stronger leaders.”

Steven Wurtz, the chief academic officer in the Arlington school system, said the district’s program is as demanding as a master’s program and explores various types of leadership and is connected to the day-to-day work in which the aspiring principals and teacher leaders are involved.

The participants will work in teams to fix a problem at their school. Emerging leaders will have face-to-face coaching sessions, he said.

“We strongly feel that effective principals have a direct impact on the quality of learning that takes place in the classrooms,” he said. “[The grant] will allow us to develop a pipeline of emerging leaders who will be prepared to assume the principalship and leadership roles across the district.”

Keeping Leaders

Beverly Hutton, the deputy executive director for programs and services at the NASSP, said the grantees reflect “a new vision of principal development.”

“Rather than relying on self-selection, these successful programs invest heavily in identifying talent and cultivating it over a period of time,” Hutton said. “With strong records of success, these programs emphasize that the principalship is a reflective practice, one that requires ongoing opportunity to work with peers and mentors to constantly improve practice.

McClimon, from American Express, said the foundation hopes the programs will help reduce principal turnover, a nettlesome problem that costs school districts, particularly urban school systems, millions of dollars annually.

A report released last year estimated that nearly a quarter of all principals leave their schools each year and about half leave in their third year.

A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Efforts to Groom Principal Talent Get New Infusion of Cash

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