Initiative targets school leaders

Educators to join a nonprofit in training of principals for city

More than half now eligible to retire

Privately funded program aims for 40 administrators in 3 years

February 22, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Faced with a large percentage of Baltimore principals nearing retirement, city and state educators are joining with a national nonprofit group to train Baltimore's next generation of school leaders.

The partnership, funded by $2.8 million in private money from local and national donors, is expected to provide Baltimore public schools with 40 principals over the next three years - more than a fifth of all principals in the city.

City and state officials are scheduled to announce the partnership with New York-based New Leaders for New Schools at a news conference this morning at Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School in South Baltimore.

Worried that more than half of the city's 184 principals are eligible for retirement, school leaders have been courting New Leaders to work in Baltimore. They enlisted the support of local philanthropists, who are contributing half of the funds for the partnership. Baltimore was selected from among more than 10 school systems that competed for the partnership.

"The strength of school reform really does rest in school leadership," said city schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland. "We need a full-scale recruitment effort to make sure we not only fill those vacancies, but fill them with very, very competent people."

New Leaders, created in 2000 by five Harvard University business and education graduate students, has been held up as a model principal-training program by the U.S. Department of Education. As the only principal-training program with national reach, it has trained more than 150 principals in Washington, New York, Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Oakland, Calif.

Maryland education officials were interested in the partnership because many of the state's 24 school systems are having problems recruiting and retaining school leaders. The State Department of Education has agreed to certify principals trained by New Leaders, and it hopes other systems will be able to become partners with the nonprofit group.

"We do know the pivotal role principals play in transforming schools," state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said. "This is an opportunity to do recruitment well beyond the state of Maryland with a very experienced initiative."

Grasmick also said recruiting skilled principals could ease school systems' struggle with retaining high-quality teachers, who sometimes quit if they don't feel supported by talented administrators.

Past candidates accepted into New Leaders programs have an average of six years' teaching experience and have been in leadership positions. Many also have a noneducation background, such as in business or the military.

"We recruit broadly," said Jonathan Schnur, chief executive officer of New Leaders and a former education policy aide to the Clinton administration. "We look for people with certain characteristics, [including] a deep and unyielding belief in [the potential of] all kids, regardless of their background."

Schnur said the New Leaders selection committee is seeking 10 candidates for the coming school year from inside and outside the school system, and 15 each for the next two years. About 6 percent of applicants were accepted in other cities. Successful applicants are required to make at least a four-year commitment.

After candidates are selected, they will attend a six-week training session over the summer with counterparts from other cities, then work as "residents" for a year under the tutelage of well-regarded principals. They will be in charge of some aspect of instruction at an elementary or secondary school, such as working with specific grades.

Brian Sims, a principal at a Chicago high school who was trained by New Leaders, said he was impressed by the caliber of education experts to whom he had access. "I grew five times [more] the year of my residency than I would have otherwise," Sims said.

After the residency, trainees are to be assigned as assistant principals or principals to schools that have failed to meet state academic standards for several years in a row.

The New Leaders program in Baltimore will be headed by Peter Kannam, a former director of the city's Teach for America program.

The city school system will pay the trainees' salaries. In exchange, it will receive 40 trained principals and the opportunity to learn from New Leaders' recruitment and training strategies, Copeland said.

Schnur said his organization is trying to assist school systems as they become aware of the changing role of principals and begin cultivating future leaders with expertise in management and instruction.

Said Schnur: "There's a growing recognition that a building principal needs to be a CEO and leader of instructional change, which is a dramatically different role from that of a midlevel manager."

Principal training

Baltimore public schools in partnership with New Leaders for New Schools will start a training program for new principals.

Number of positions: 10 for the 2005-2006 school year; 30 over the next two years.

Requirements: Bachelor's degree; five years' professional work experience; two years' K-12 teaching experience; leadership skills.

Application deadlines: March 15 and April 7.

Information: www.nlns.org.

Major local donors: Abell Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Major national donors: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, Boeing Co.

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