Recently, there has been increased local and national attention on the role of school leaders and their impact on helping to improve our highest need public schools. Research conducted by the Wallace Foundation has found that “leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning.”
While the principal is widely acknowledged as a critical figure, in Delaware and across the country, there is an increasing shortage of qualified principal candidates for open positions. In a 2011 study, University of Delaware professor Jeffrey Raffel discovered that this year, 21.2% of districts reported that they had difficulties hiring a principal compared with 15.8% last year. Although they received 10% more applications for open positions, less than one-quarter of those applicants were qualified to serve, compared with 43.3% of 2010 applicants. Many of these openings are in Delaware’s highest-need schools – those which would benefit the most from visionary, data-driven, and collaborative leadership.
With a shrinking pool of qualified principals applying to serve Delaware’s high need public schools, developing a pipeline of specially trained new leaders is essential. University programs have for years played an important role in developing this pipeline of leaders for all public schools, but more must be done.
This is not a new trend. Similar to Delaware, places like New York City and others suffer from a shortage of highly qualified principal candidates applying for open positions due to high turnover and retirements, among other factors. To help address this problem, in 2003, New York City developed the NYC Leadership Academy—an independent, not-for-profit organization—to expand its principal labor pool for its highest need schools.
Delaware is now among those using a similar strategy. This past year Innovative Schools launched The Delaware Leadership Project, modeled after NYC Leadership Academy’s nationally recognized program. This program is a vital new tool for preparing highly motivated educators to take the reins at Delaware’s schools most in need of good leadership and was recently highlighted in the Center for America Progress’ report “Gateways to the Principalship: State Power to Improve the Quality of School Leaders.”
The Delaware Leadership Project is a highly selective program that provides aspiring leaders with a combination of coursework and hands-on experiential training to develop the reflexes and know-how to successfully lead a high-need school from day one. The full-time, 15-month program involves a 5-week summer intensive, a 10 month-residency under the tutelage of an experienced mentor principal, and a planning summer. Graduates receive two years of coaching support after they are hired as a principal or assistant principal. The program is designed only to graduate those participants that are truly ready for leadership positions. Graduates must commit to serving for three years as a leader of a high-need Delaware school.
The first cohort of DLP aspiring principals have completed the Summer Intensive and are now serving as principals-in-residence in high-needs schools. Though challenged, they are excited at the preparation they are getting to be future leaders in Delaware’s highest need schools.
“The residency provides such a great environment to take controlled risks, which has added depth to my understanding,” shares Reshid Walker, who worked in the Capital School District in various roles and in the New York City Department of Education prior to being accepted into the Delaware Leadership Project. He added, “I’m learning how to apply what I have learned in the 5-week summer intensive training by making the relevant connections between theory and best practice. As a result, my understanding of the business of education, in terms of operations management, personnel management, and instructional leadership within a real time context, has increased significantly. The ability to solve complicated problems in a short period of time has strengthened my discipline and tenacity, qualities that are essential for a building principal. I believe the residency experience will continue to provide me a more solid framework necessary to assume a future leadership role.”
Innovative Schools is proud to be joining others across the state in developing strong leaders through a unique, residency based approach. The Delaware Leadership Project is now entering its second year and will have approximately 10 seats available for the 2012 class. Participants receive a stipend competitive with their current teaching salary. If you or someone you know is a good candidate for this exciting professional development opportunity, learn more at www.innovativeschools.org/dlp. Applications will be accepted until January 20, 2012.
Deborah L. Doordan, Ed.D.
Dr. Deborah L. Doordan is Innovative Schools’ Executive Director. Since joining the organization in February 2008, her leadership has provided direction through major restructuring; transforming and reframing the organization as the Center for School Innovation, and has poised it to play an important role in revolutionizing public education in Delaware.
Debbie professionally dedicated more than 20 years serving public education in the Christina School District. As a teacher, her work in special education helped to move students with disabilities out of isolated special schools and into their age-appropriate home schools. As an urban school principal in Wilmington, Debbie’s team significantly raised the academic performance of students at-risk for failure and narrowed the achievement gap among disaggregate student groups. And as a district administrator, her experiences broadened to include extensive work in curriculum and instruction, professional development, and secondary education reform.