Leaders in school reform

November 14, 2006

When New Leaders for New Schools came to Baltimore in February 2005, it announced ambitious plans to recruit and train 40 new principals for city schools in three years. Yesterday, the organization reported that it is not only on track to meet its goal, it has also gained acceptance from state education officials and an infusion of funds from a local foundation. These are not just votes of confidence in a creative education venture, but a real boost for Baltimore schools.

Lots of elements make up a good school, but having a principal who can be an effective instructional and operational chief executive is key. And with half of the city's public school principals eligible or nearly eligible to retire, the need for new school leadership is evident. Enter New Leaders for New Schools, a New York-based nonprofit started in 2000 that is training a new generation of principals for urban schools across the country.

In Baltimore, eight of New Leaders' first 10 recruits are in charge of schools, with two serving as assistant principals, and it has 16 more recruits in training. Most have taught at least six years in Baltimore schools or in other districts, and a handful pursued a career in education after working for corporations or serving in the military. Recruits receive six weeks of summer training before becoming "resident principals" for a year, working with experienced mentor principals while also completing required academic study.

The Maryland State Department of Education has helped New Leaders strengthen its curriculum and has determined that all participants who complete the program will satisfy the department's requirements for full certification as principals, the first non-university-based program to obtain such recognition. In addition, a $540,000 grant over three years from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has generated a matching amount from national funders.

New Leaders' ultimate goal is higher academic achievement for Baltimore students. The organization expects that after five years on the job, its principals will have 90 percent of elementary and middle school students proficient in reading and math and 90 percent of high school students graduating on time. It's an open question whether those expectations can be fulfilled, but the organization is off to a good start.

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