Seeking school reformers

February 23, 2005

AN UNUSUAL and exciting partnership has come together to tackle a significant educational challenge for Baltimore: how to identify and train the next generation of school principals. With more than half of the city's 184 principals eligible for retirement, state and local school officials, politicians and national and local funders successfully pushed for Baltimore to join a national effort to recruit and prepare dynamic new leaders for the schools.

Strong, visionary principals can establish or maintain a good school and can turn around a dysfunctional school. The principal's team, starting with effective and caring teachers, implements the vision. But the principal sets the overall tone and direction. In recognition of that important role, a New York-based nonprofit organization called New Leaders for New Schools has concentrated on training leaders who can be chief instructional and chief executive officers in urban schools around the nation. Since 2000, more than 150 principals have been trained to work in Chicago; Memphis, Tenn.; New York; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington.

Baltimore is now the latest city to be selected. The aim is to recruit 10 candidates this year and 30 more in the next two years. Applicants can come from inside or outside the school system, but, typically, they should have about six years' teaching experience. The selected candidates will receive six weeks' training this summer, together with their counterparts from the other cities. They will then work as "residents" for a year, shadowing experienced, respected principals who will serve as their mentors. Gradually, they will assume more managerial responsibility until they are ready to take charge of a school.

The Maryland State Department of Education has agreed to recognize the program for purposes of certification, and national and local funders have committed $2.8 million to the effort. This kind of joint partnership is commendable. And the potential payoff is immense: A few dozen good principals can make a world of difference.

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