School leaders program succeeds

State is planning to certify principals trained for city

November 13, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

In February 2005, a national nonprofit called New Leaders for New Schools set up shop in Baltimore and pledged to train 40 new principals in three years - filling a gap created by dozens of city principals reaching retirement age.

Today, impressed with the work the group has done so far, the State Department of Education is set to announce that it will award full principal certification to graduates of a yearlong New Leaders program, rather than alternative certification that must be renewed after two years.

In addition, New Leaders will announce a $540,000 grant for its Baltimore operation from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, to be matched by the organization's national board and by the Broad Foundation.

"It's a huge validation of our program," said Peter Kannam, executive director of the Baltimore operation of New Leaders, which has scheduled a news conference for this morning at Fort Worthington Elementary School.

Based in New York, New Leaders is training principals in seven cities nationwide, including Washington, Memphis and Chicago. All had to undergo a rigorous application process to be part of the program. Principal candidates must have teaching experience, and they must commit to at least four years working as an administrator in an urban school or face financial penalties.

Participants spend a summer attending classes and then a school year working under an experienced city principal and receiving additional training. The second year, they move into principal and assistant principal jobs.

In Baltimore, eight people who began the program in 2005 are now working as principals. Two are working as assistant principals. Another 16 who started this summer are now in their "residency" year, and new candidates are being recruited for 2007.

By the 2008-2009 school year, officials say, New Leaders should have principals in 40 city schools, serving more than 20,000 children, or about a quarter of the system's population. The group is interested in training another 40 principals for Baltimore in the years after that.

"For where we are right now, they're an excellent partner," said Linda Chinnia, the city school system's chief academic officer. She said she hopes the system will one day have the capacity to train its own principals.

For now, Baltimore's need for new principals is staggering: About 50 percent of those currently in city schools are at or approaching retirement age.

New Leaders has set a goal that, in schools staffed by its principals for five years or more, at least 90 percent of children pass state tests in reading and math, and at least 90 percent of students graduate from high school on time.

Chinnia said she is delighted by the group's ambition. But, adding that New Schools wants its principals to work in "very challenging schools," she said, "We temper that with some realism."

William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said state officials have been working with New Leaders to ensure that principal candidates have sufficient training in pedagogy. Now that the department is comfortable with the training program, New Leaders will now be able to certify principals the same way that colleges and universities can. Candidates must still pass a national test.

Jonathan Schnur, New Leaders' chief executive officer and co-founder, said the principal candidates in the organization's other six cities all earn only alternative certification.

Schnur called the development in Baltimore "groundbreaking" and said it will enable New Leaders to expand its work to other school systems in Maryland. He plans to meet today with John Deasy, the schools chief in Prince George's County, to talk about establishing a partnership there.

Kannam said the Weinberg Foundation grant will be distributed over the next three years. He said it will help pay for New Leaders to hire retired, accomplished principals to work as mentors for their participants in their first few years at the helm of a school. It will also support recruitment efforts.

"Our work has really just begun," he said.

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