Helping Tomorrow’s Principals Find Their Path to Leadership

The best principal preparation programs actively seek the best leadership talent, then cultivate that talent in a safe environment where aspiring leaders can make mistakes, consider their behavior, and try again.

These are consistent themes among the five principal-preparation programs awarded a Principals Path to Leadership grant, announced today by American Express and NASSP.

The winners—selected from more than 70 applicants—will receive a total of approximately $2.5 million to increase their capacity and impact over the next three years with an eye toward long-term sustainability. The grants are awarded at a time of heightened awareness of principals’ crucial roles in school improvements.

The five winning organizations and programs are:

Learning Forward (Oxford, OH): This grant will support Learning Leaders for Learning Schools, a partnership between the Arizona chapter of Learning Forward and the Arizona Department of Education. The program will provide leadership training to 80 current and aspiring principals and include seminars, small communities of practice, and personalized coaching.

Alabama State Department of Education (Montgomery, AL): This grant will support the statewide implementation of the Alabama Strong: Principals as Catalysts for School Improvement program. It is part of the Alabama State Department of Education’s commitment to an integrated learning supports framework, currently involving 50 districts and approximately 300 principals. This funding will expand the work being done by adding in-depth leadership development, as well as coaching and training for 71 principals and their leadership teams in high-poverty areas throughout Alabama.

NYC Leadership Academy (Long Island City, NY): This grant will support the Aspiring Principals Program, which is being expanded to serve multiple districts in the New York Tristate area, to prepare and support 50 aspiring principals and train approximately 50 local mentor principals. The program will include multiweek summer intensive leadership training, as well as face-to-face and online-facilitated learning sessions throughout the academic year.

Arlington Independent School District (Arlington, TX): The grant will support the Emerging Leaders Program, designed to strengthen the leadership skills of 105 assistant and aspiring principals, directing them on a path to the principalship. The program, in partnership with New Leaders, a national nonprofit that develops school leaders, will include a summer induction session, ongoing webinars, and one-on-one coaching. The program will develop the participants’ application of learning, which will promote increased student outcomes.

North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals Association (Raleigh, NC): This grant will support Distinguished Leadership in Practice, a rigorous leadership development program reaching 135 early-career principals and assistant principals. The blended program will include face-to-face sessions every other month, followed by a six-week online, application-based course. The goal of the program is for participants to internalize leadership skills that will enable them to transform their schools.

IMG_1848.JPGThe winning programs were announced today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Leaders of the five programs participated in a panel discussion about the importance of and need for principal leadership moderated by Education Week Assistant Managing Editor Lesli Maxwell.

The 2015 NASSP National Principal of the Year Jayne Ellspermann, herself a mentor to 16 assistant principals who have assumed principalships over the years, noted that all the winners’ programs had crucial peer collaboration and reflective practice in common. “These grantee programs recognize the importance of aspiring principals pausing to reflect, to reassess priorities, and to rethink their behaviors in light of those priorities,” Ellspermann said. “This is the essence of effective leadership. And the best gift any one of these programs can give a principal is to build the lifelong habit of reflective practice.”

Ellspermann also challenged public policymakers to continue the work begun here by private philanthropy. “Our nation has never had a purposeful investment in the principalship. Data from the U.S. Department of Education reflects that only 4 percent of Title II funds even touch the principal, and the current bills to reauthorize ESEA don’t promise to do much better. If we are serious about improving education for each student, we can’t do so without intentional policy and investment in finding, developing, and retaining the best talent.”

The Principals Path to Leadership grant program represents one of American Express’ largest investments in education leadership training to date and continues its commitment to leadership development across the social sector. One of American Express’ longest-running leadership programs is the American Express Leadership Academy, which launched in 2008 and connects emerging nonprofit and social purpose leaders with world-class training to strengthen the leadership pipeline in these critical areas. To date, American Express has hosted more than 70 Leadership Academy sessions with 10 partners in nine countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Mexico, Canada, China, Senegal, and Kenya. More than 2,200 emerging nonprofit and social sector leaders worldwide have benefitted from the American Express Leadership Academy.

The Principals Path to Leadership grant program launched in late spring with a call for applications among districts, states, and U.S.-based 501(c)(3) organizations that manage programs to train new and emerging K-12 principals. A selection committee comprising American Express staff, NASSP professional development staff, NASSP-recognized principals, and other education leadership experts reviewed applications and selected grantees in September.

NASSP and American Express will work with the grantees to collect and disseminate effective practices and other data in the hopes of reaching more leaders and having a broader impact.

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