Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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Part I: Elements of Innovative Pathways to School Leadership

The six innovative programs in this study evolved in response to school districts' frustration in finding and keeping adequate numbers of well-prepared school principals who are willing and able to lead challenging schools to high performance. In each case, the founders of these "grow-your-own" programs determined that existing ways of attracting and preparing principals for these jobs were falling short of what was needed in their particular context.

These pioneering programs seek to recruit successful and experienced leaders from both within and without public education and prepare them to be ready to succeed as leaders in challenging public school settings. To do so, each program has started with a clear vision of the kinds of leaders needed to meet the needs of its constituent districts and regions. In addition, each has developed rigorous recruiting and candidate selection criteria, a meaningful and relevant program of coursework and fieldwork, and processes for building and sustaining the program over time.

Guiding Vision of Powerful School Leadership

Driving the development of each program was a compelling belief in the importance of highly committed and high-performing school leaders—individuals who were prepared to successfully mobilize the necessary knowledge, skills, resources, and energy to challenge and overcome institutionalized barriers to student achievement and to generate conditions in which all students achieve successful outcomes. Each of the six programs began with a clear and highly focused vision of the kinds of leaders needed within its specific context, and each continues to relentlessly pursue that vision through its program structure and design.

The vision of Kentucky's Principals Excellence Program (PEP), which serves rural districts, exemplifies the deliberation that characterizes each program: "The Principals Excellence Program will transform the principalship in underserved rural school districts from school management to visionary instructional leadership that assures high-quality learning for all rural students." That vision permeates all facets of PEP's program and is the basis for decisions about program design and refinement. Eight program objectives define PEP's path to achieve the vision.

Focusing the Program: What Makes a Great Principal?

Extensive research over the last two decades has contributed to our understanding of what it takes to be—and to develop—an effective principal.8 Analysis of these data yields a clear picture of what effective principals do, what they know, what they believe about student learning, how they interact with teachers, and how they reach out to parents and the broader community. The most significant and instructive finding emerging from the research is this: Leadership matters—a lot. Simply stated, it takes an effective principal to make a successful school. When leaders mobilize action by declaring a focus on learning and then lead from a set of fundamental values and beliefs about learning and about students' ability to achieve, their schools are more likely to identify, set, and achieve ambitious goals for student learning.

While it's clear that good school leaders share common characteristics, it's equally clear that effective leaders are deeply attuned and responsive to the environment in which they operate. It makes sense that productive community outreach and parental engagement are likely to look very different in the hills and hollows of rural Kentucky than in the densely packed urban neighborhoods of Boston, Chicago, or New York City.

Similarly, successful instructional leadership and teacher development may require a different approach in a high-turnover district where a significant percentage of teachers each year are new to the profession as compared to a district with large numbers of veteran educators and an active mentoring program. So while all six sites highlighted in this guide have grounded their program development and goals in the significant body of research about effective school leadership, each has interpreted that research against the backdrop of the districts it serves. The aim is to prepare the next generation of leaders to be able to step in and do well by any school but, most of all, to be effective in each program's constituent district or districts, able to engage with the district's vision of school improvement, and ready to undertake the hard work required to realize it. Operating on the belief that "great principals lead great schools," the New Leaders for New Schools program defines a great principal as one who coaches and inspires teachers to reach and teach every child and collaborates with students' parents, families, and communities to make schools work. The program boldly aspires to transform American education by creating a critical mass of such principals in urban school districts.

The Boston Principal Fellowship Program (BPF) evolved from the district's ambitious whole-school reform initiative and its superintendent's conviction that school leadership is the single most important factor in each school's success. In support of that conviction, he allocated district funds and other resources to create an internal leadership development program to enhance the skills of the district's current principals, preparing them to carry out their critical role in Boston's whole-school reform plans. The superintendent also launched a "grow-your-own" preparation program—Boston Principal Fellowship Program (BPF)—that immerses participants in the daily work of effective principals and then places them in some of the city's neediest schools. The program's driving vision is that principals are "instructional leaders who effectively improve the teaching and learning process in their schools." (See figure 3 for Boston's competencies of effective principals.)

Figure 3. Boston Principal Fellowship's Competencies of Effective Principals

Boston School Leadership Institute
Competencies of Effective Principals
Effective Principals:
  • Understand how children and adults learn.

  • Analyze instruction and student learning through regular classroom observations and provide detailed feedback to teachers that supports instructional improvement.

  • Use data to measure student learning, instructional improvement and to drive planning.

  • Create a school community that is devoted to social justice, high expectations for all, and equity in students'opportunity to learn.

  • Understand the achievement gap and implement explicit strategies to close the gap.

  • Develop and communicate a shared vision and common understanding of effective classrooms and instruction and organize the school on it.

  • Create a collegial environment in which leadership is shared, professional practice is made public, risk-taking and innovation are supported, and consistent, high-quality instruction is paramount.

  • Understand the needs and assets students, parents and the community bring to schools and build strong relationships with all constituents.

  • Use the school budget, human resource functions, and other resources strategically to support improved student learning.

  • Develop and maintain a safe and disciplined learning environment and manage building operations in support of student learning.

  • Reflect on practice and continually refine leadership, based on learning and experience.

Moving Forward in a Focused Direction

New Jersey's EXCEL (Expedited Certification for Educational Leadership) program intends to prepare its candidates to be "visionary leaders with the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and readiness for them to be effective agents of change and improvement and effective instructional leaders who actively advocate for and guide the achievement of high academic standards by all students."

The concept of the principal as a "change agent" also guides the First Ring Leadership Academy in Cleveland, which defines an effective principal as "a change agent able to lead a school community to improve instruction so that all students in First Ring schools achieve at high levels." Similarly, Chicago's LAUNCH identifies a highly qualified principal as one who is "ready to lead the school to high achievement by continuously improving teaching and learning so that every child realizes his or her educational potential." Each of these programs delineates—in a set of standards—the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors one needs to grow into the role of instructional leader, and then structures selection criteria, curricula, an apprenticeship, and performance measures around those standards.

A Powerful, Guiding Vision:

  • Conveys a clear, focused picture of what an effective school leader does to improve instruction and learning;

  • Reflects evidence-based research;

  • Mobilizes action to attain it; and

  • Keeps the program on track.

The critical importance of the program vision in these six programs is illustrated in the many significant ways their visions have provided a clear focus and sense of purpose for them. LAUNCH incorporates its vision and focus into a standards-based assessment program. Twenty-four indicators of effective leadership serve as the foundation for both its instructional program and its formative assessment of candidates' leadership competencies.

Invest in Being Selective

All six programs offer an accelerated pathway to becoming a principal. While the programs differ from one another in design and structure, they share such characteristics as a rigorous curriculum, demanding fieldbased projects, and an expedited timeline. All of the featured sites agree that their programs do not have the luxury of time to shape a candidate's belief system about student learning or to develop foundational leadership skills. Candidates must come with these qualities fully developed. In short, they need to be able to hit the ground running. Furthermore, each program invests substantially in its candidates. (Figure 1 details the cost per participant in each program.) Ensuring a good return on that investment is a high priority.

All programs strongly emphasize that they are not remedial; instead, they aim to transform individuals with a proven track record of leadership into school principals who can effectively promote great instruction and learning in their schools. They say the secret to their success is not so much the specifics of their instructional program—important as that effort is—as it is to enroll the right candidates.

Each program deliberately screens and selects participants who are already equipped with the appropriate experiences and dispositions to become powerful principals. And each provides those participants with an accelerated program whose every element powerfully radiates from its vision.

Each of the six programs defines the ideal candidate slightly differently, but the personal traits and leadership competencies sought are similar in all. The programs seek people with a passionate and demonstrated commitment to academic improvement for every student, a genuine belief that all children are intelligent and will learn and make progress, given the right circumstances. They want self-aware individuals who understand great teaching and learning, are creative problem solvers, and have strong communication and collaboration skills. To that end, each program starts with a comprehensive screening process based on program-specific criteria that reflect its guiding vision of powerful school leadership. (See figure 4 for an example of screening criteria from New Leaders.)

All programs require at least a bachelor's degree; in New Jersey and Chicago, candidates must have a master's degree. All require professional experience, including some teaching, although Boston accepts those with a youth development background. In some instances, programs are designed specifically to develop new principals; others also look to further develop individuals who are already working as principals or assistant principals.

Beyond such basic requirements, the programs also look at more qualitative factors. Boston, for example, asks candidates to articulate their personal theories of leadership. New Leaders seeks people with an unrelenting commitment to ensuring that every child achieves at high levels. Its selection criteria (see figure 4) are based on its vision of effective school leadership that consists of high expectations and respect for every child, instructional leadership, school-family-community partnerships, data-driven decisions, collaboration and distributed leadership. The PEP screens its candidates for a strong knowledge of instruction, curriculum, and assessment, along with an understanding of Kentucky's statewide reform program. PEP looks for a commitment to improving rural schooling conditions and an appreciation of Kentucky's rural culture; it also screens for a belief in the capacity of every student to achieve Kentucky's academic standards.


The starting place for attracting good candidates, as well as for dissuading those not qualified, is the recruitment process. Program directors spoke of beginning a year ahead of their start dates to publicize and promote the opportunity. Chicago's LAUNCH, for example, issued 3,200 brochures in November 2003 to spread the word to prospective 2004 participants about what the program is, who might qualify for admission, and where the application could be found online. New Jersey's EXCEL relies largely on word-of-mouth generated by its graduates, but also recruits via the publications of its parent organization, a statewide principals and supervisors association.

Tested Recruiting Strategies:

  • Market in places where you are most likely to find the ideal program candidates (e.g., relevant conferences, publications, local media);

  • Use word-of-mouth (e.g., current participants' connections and networks);

  • Expand outreach through partnerships with related organizations (e.g., local colleges, teacher unions, community youth centers); and

  • Seek nominations from other respected leaders (e.g., superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors).

FIGURE 4. New Leaders for New Schools Candidate Selection Criteria

New Leaders for New Schools Selection Criteria (listed alphabetically)
  1. Belief in the Potential of All Children to Excel Academically
    • Believe each and every child can excel academically
    • Take personal responsibility for ensuring high academic achievement for every child
    • Demonstrate the personal drive and commitment to eliminate the disparity of educational quality that exists
  2. Commitment to Ongoing Learning
    • See feedback and reflect on experiences to grow and develop
    • Demonstrate humility and willingness to continually improve
    • Commit to the coaching and the development of adults
  3. Communication and Listening
    • Possess written and verbal skills to communicate with clarity, conciseness, and appropriateness to multiple audiences
    • Demonstrate poise and professionalism in diverse situations
    • Listen actively
  4. Interpersonal Skills
    • Build successful one-on-one relationships
    • Value each person's perspective and treat people with respect
    • Relate to adults and children: understand where they are coming from, what they need, and how to meet their needs
    • Diffuse anger and find common ground to move people towards solutions
    • Exhibit confidence and competence under pressure
  5. Knowledge of Teaching and Learning.
    • Identify exemplary teaching
    • Provide feedback and guidance to improve instructional strategies
    • Enable students to attain results despite significant challenges
  6. Problem Solving
    • Work proactively to solve problems and reach effective solutions
    • Analyze and diagnose complex issues to develop strategic plan
    • Identify concrete outcomes as a way to evaluate results
  7. Project Management to Deliver Results
    • Articulate a clear vision, set agenda, and implement goals
    • Select, prioritize, and communicate strategies effectively to reach goals
    • Balance day-to-day tasks and urgent needs with progress towards goals
    • Delegate decision-making and authority in responsible manner
  8. Self-Awareness
    • Identify accurately personal strengths and areas for development
    • Demonstrate integrity by acting in a manner that consistently reflects stated values and beliefs
    • Understand how you are perceived by and impact others
  9. Team Building
    • Collaborate effectively
    • Read group dynamics accurately
    • Mobilize adults to take action and hold them accountable for reaching common goals
    • Engage and empower others to take responsibility in decision-making to achieve results
  10. Unyielding Focus on Goals and Results
    • Confront difficult situations head-on and implement diverse solutions to get results
    • Achieve results despite obstacles by demonstrating persistence, determination, and relentless drive
    • Exhibit resilience to persevere and overcome setbacks
    • Take personal responsibility for finding solutions when faced with challenges
    • Be decisive and hold people to core values when it counts

New Leaders for New Schools targets its marketing and recruitment in hopes of attracting not just those currently working in a school system, but also those who have led community organizations, nonprofits, and youth development programs. It utilizes an executive search-style approach of creating local, regional, and national networks. As a result, more than half of the new leaders are considered "nontraditional" in that they were from outside the public school systems with which New Leaders works, although all participants have strong K-12 experience. For its first 150 fellowships, New Leaders received over 2,600 applications representing a selection rate of 6 percent.

Several programs, such as LAUNCH and PEP, seek nominations from school or district administrators. In Cleveland, participants are handpicked by participating superintendents based on their perceived potential as schools leaders or, in the case of assistant principals or officially designated teacher-leaders, their actual performance. Program staff report that this recruitment approach has the added bonus of sending a message that the districts value the capacity development of their own staff.

The Screening Process

Each program has structured a clearly defined and multiphased process for screening applicants. The first phase may be the application itself, designed in some cases to help ensure that candidates self-select based on rigorous criteria. Succeeding phases involve interviews and, in some programs, performance assessments.

In New Leaders, the application is a weeding tool. It defines criteria (e.g., skills in project management, communication, listening, relationship-building) and requires would-be candidates to answer 14 complex questions designed to reveal how well their backgrounds, experiences, and personal qualities meet the criteria. Similarly, Chicago and Boston applicants receive prompting questions for which they must develop essay responses that are scored by program teams.

An Effective Selection Process:

  • Defines the ideal program candidate and establishes application requirements that reflect that ideal;

  • Screens applicants using criteria that reflect the vision and the application requirements;

  • Uses multiple measures such as interviews, on-demand writing, performance tasks, observations, and assessment rubrics to select participants;

  • Takes place over multiple days to evaluate the candidate in a variety of contexts; and

  • Involves multiple assessors with a variety of perspectives, knowledge, and experiences.

In most programs, the screening process is followed by an interview phase. The most intensive and elaborate of these is New Leaders. The roughly 50 percent of applicants who make it through the first screening must then participate in a second screening that includes an hour-long interview with two staff members and requires applicants to produce a written analysis of a case study. About half of the applicants are successful. These individuals then go on to a full-day interview with staff and program mentors, which includes role-playing and the evaluation of a simulated classroom lesson.

In Boston, teams of principals, teacher-leaders, district administrators, and higher education faculty interview candidates, who are also rated on a performance assessment in which they are asked to conduct a teacher observation and assessment at a designated school. Chicago uses a similar panel approach (theirs consists of principals, administrators, and staff from Northwestern University) for interviewing the 30 percent of candidates who make it past the initial application screening. New Jersey's screening requires candidates to formally present a professional portfolio, complete a writing sample that includes a statement of their educational philosophy and personal vision for school leadership, and respond to problem-based scenarios.

Design a Meaningful, Relevant Program

For all these programs, six key elements help to ensure an experience that is meaningful for candidates and relevant to the needs of their students and schools: 1) knowledgeable, committed leadership within a partnership structure; 2) a standards-based curriculum incorporating clear performance indicators; 3) instructional design based on adult learning theory; 4) an intensive, focused induction; 5) a supportive cohort structure; and 6) a school-based practicum, involving expert mentors.

Create a Partnership Structure

All of the programs studied operate as partnerships between a school district or multiple school jurisdictions and other entities, notably universities and foundations. Such partnerships often support the initial costs of program staffing, design, and development, and they contribute to the program's long-term sustainability.

Cleveland's First Ring Leadership Academy, for example, is led by a collaboration of the 13 school districts that encircle the city. Their superintendents, working in partnership with Cleveland State University, launched the academy in response to the critical shortage and high turnover of qualified principals in their districts. Figure 5 is the interview guide that academy staff used to identify the superintendents' program priorities. Each superintendent commits to identifying two or more promising leaders for each academy cohort and supporting them through the academy, then sharing the pool of academy graduates across First Ring districts to fill principal vacancies. The university is committed to customizing the program for participants and making personalized services and resources available to them so that they have every opportunity to become effective school leaders.

The New Leaders national team is a diverse mix of social entrepreneurs and leaders from education, business, and public policy. They staff a program that operates as a partnership of five metropolitan school districts—in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Memphis, and the San Francisco Bay Area—and several of the nation's leading venture philanthropists. Further support comes in the form of strategic consultancy from the Monitor Group, a leading strategy firm, and pro bono legal assistance from Kirkland and Ellis, a major New York City law firm. New Leaders provides the framework for public and private sector leaders to join together and commit time and resources to transforming public school leadership.

FIGURE 5. Interview Guide to Identify First Ring Superintendents' Priorities

Creating the First Ring Leadership Academy

Asking the Right Questions - First Ring Superintendent Interviews
Mission and Purpose
  • Think of a school principal in your district who is doing it right, what is s/he doing?

  • Think of a school principal in your district who is not doing well, what is s/he not doing?

  • Is there a leadership gap? What is it?

  • What do you think this Academy should be all about?

Content and Design
  • What is important for school principals to know?

  • How should school principals learn that knowledge?

  • How would you describe your preparation to become a school superintendent?

  • Who should become school principals?

  • Are you increasing the number of women and minorities in your school principal positions?

  • Does your district mentor new principals?

  • Do you have someone in mind for the first cohort of the Academy?

  • What discourages qualified applicants from applying to school leadership positions?

  • How do you keep good principals in the job?

  • How might the Academy address issues of retention?

Morin 1/25/04

Boston's and Chicago's district-based programs also benefit from partnerships. Boston's operates as a collaboration of the Boston Public Schools and the University of Massachusetts. Chicago's LAUNCH is operated by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools and Northwestern University. NJ EXCEL partners with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the Association's Foundation for Educational Administration. Kentucky's PEP is a dynamic partnership between the Pike County School District, a deeply rural Appalachian community, and the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Develop a Standards-Based Curriculum

Across all six programs, standards guide the structure and sequence of the leadership curriculum and establish indicators of effective practice. In each case the curriculum derives from local- or state-adopted performance-based standards, such as the New Jersey Professional Standards for School Leaders. All of them delineate what school leaders need to know and be able to do at various points in their careers, and all of them draw from the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers in 1996.9

In each case, overarching leadership standards are integrated with the specific kinds of knowledge and skills the particular program was founded to develop. Boston, for example, focuses on effective practices as defined by Boston's six Essentials of Whole School Improvement (see figure 6), which emphasize principals' need to deeply understand instruction and organize the entire school enterprise to improve student learning. Likewise, New Leaders focuses on 12 essential competencies that reflect research on the practices of urban school principals who have successfully turned around low-performing schools. Chicago's program is guided by the seven leadership proficiencies in that district's educational improvement plan.

The First Ring Leadership Academy (FRLA) in Cleveland developed its curriculum by identifying and prioritizing the recurring and challenging issues and concerns that the next generation of leaders will encounter in the schools FRLA serves. From a priority-setting process that used a focus group consisting of a cross section of district and community leaders, five persistent leadership challenges emerged as critical: increasing student diversity; parent and community involvement; communication; legislati on and politics; and the need to balance priorities. FRLA then cross-checked these five themes with the ISLLC standards to ensure that they were embedded in all learning experiences. The end result is a curriculum scope that integrates FRLA contextual issues with the ISLLC standards and indicators.

FIGURE 6. Boston Public Schools' Essentials of Whole School Improvement

Six Essentials of Whole School Improvement

Essential 1: Effective instructional practice and a collaborative school climate lead to improved student learning.

Essential 2: Student work and data drive instruction and professional development.

Essential 3: Investments in professional development improve instruction.

Essential 4: Shared leadership sustains instructional improvement.

Essential 5: Resource use supports instructional improvement and improved student learning.

Essential 6: Schools partner with families and community to support student learning.

Base the Instructional Design on Adult Learning Theory

The structure and focus of the instructional part of each program varies, but each involves a combination of coursework and fieldwork, and each is organized around a cohort and small groups. This approach is in keeping with adult learning theory, which holds that significant learning results from experiences that allow adults to: 1) engage with meaningful content; 2) socially process the information; and 3) construct their own meaning through a self-regulated process.

Begin With an Intensive and Highly Focused Induction Experience

Most of the programs initiate candidates with a rigorous induction experience designed to help participants develop a strong conceptual framework for understanding—and later applying—a deep knowledge of the leadership theory that drives the program. Whether it is a summer residency or an accelerated course sequence, these experiences demand an intense commitment, leading candidates to describe them variously as a "drop-everything-else dedication" and "the most challenging and powerful learning experience I've ever had." They serve multiple purposes, including testing a participant's commitment and drive to take on the challenging role of being a fully invested and effective school leader and arming candidates with the conceptual knowledge and informational resources that they will need on the job. In effect, these induction experiences serve as a final screening. Participants who cannot or do not want to make such a commitment opt out.

The New Leaders program, which aims to equip participants to be catalysts of urban change, starts with a six-week summer institute at the Wharton School of Management in Philadelphia where the group focuses on developing instructional, transformational, and operational leadership skills. At this early stage, bonding and network-building are valuable natural outcomes. Chicago holds a five-week summer leadership academy at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, emphasizing instructional leadership. Skills are built around the school district's principal leadership competencies, including creating a studentcentered climate, improving teaching and learning, and increasing parent involvement and community partnerships. During this beginning phase, the fellows in the program have opportunities to build an "urban network" that offers networking connections for fellows throughout their careers.

NJ EXCEL initiates candidates during a demanding twoweek summer residency. This expedited learning experience introduces candidates to the rigorous theory- and research-based curriculum and the action-research projects they will be expected to complete. At this point, candidates also begin to assess their knowledge and skills against specific standards and criteria.

Develop a Supportive Cohort Structure

All programs use a cohort group structure and all report that participants find cohort interactions to be the most valuable element of the program. Cohorts allow participants to proceed through the program with the safety and support of a learning community. Members of the cohort construct meaning and make sense of new contexts by comparing experiences, and they generalize theories of action by sharing individual successes and failures. In short, over the course of their time together, they adopt new identities, in essence "becoming" principals. Together, they evolve from teacher or other professional into an accountable educational leader who knows how to manage a school and improve teaching and learning. Far from disbanding at program completion, the cohort tends to be an ongoing source of support as people progress in their careers.

In the Principals Excellence Program, the cohort of approximately 15 is a uniquely defined community of learners that remains intact throughout the entire program year. Early and ongoing community-building strategies help to create a sense that the cohort is a safe haven for problem solving and brainstorming. Boston's fellows report that this kind of ongoing interaction led them to recognize the expertise of their colleagues and allowed them to benchmark their own progress with that of other cohort members.

Cleveland's program puts a premium on developing trust and reliance among cohort members as a means of creating a strong network of new leadership within the 13 First Ring school districts. The expectation is that cohort members will sustain and support each other as they begin and continue through their careers as school principals, directors, and superintendents.

New Jersey's cohort structure develops collegiality, collaboration, and peer support as candidates engage in a range of program activities. All candidates participate in regional inquiry groups, which meet regularly and continually communicate online to discuss readings, problem-based activities, and day-to-day challenges. Members of each regional inquiry group also support one another with peer reviews and feedback related to action research and school-based projects. Each group works with an "e-mentor" who facilitates the group's activities and serves as its primary advisor. (See figure 7 for a description of e-mentor responsibilities.)

FIGURE 7. NJ EXCEL e-Mentor Responsibilities

Logo -- njexcel Foundation for Educational Administration Expedited Certification for Educational Leadership
  • Plans minimum of 18 hours face-to-face Inquiry Group meetings scheduled at time/site by the group
  • Conducts ongoing communication with candidates using NJ-EXCEL's On-Line Learning Community (e-mail, Discussion Board, Instant Messenger)
  • Conducts additional individual/group meetings as needed at discretion of candidates and e-Mentor
Coordinating and Guiding Inquiry Group Meetings and Other Ongoing Activities
  • Extends discussions from cohort seminars on critical topics and tasks
  • Conducts discussions of research and readings
  • Conducts problem-based and critical analysis activities (case studies, in-basket activities, simulations, ect.) within group meetings and/or continuing discussion as Discussion Board activity using NJ EXCEL's On-Line Learning Community
  • Stimulates information sharing and networking activities
  • Plans peer reviews that provide feedback to candidates related to their projects and portfolios
  • Arranges inter-district activities as appropriate
Providing Individual and Group Guidance, Support, and a Collegial Environment
  • Guides ongoing self-assessment, reflection, feedback for development of Professional Growth Plans (PGP)
  • Guides development of Action Research and Job-Embedded Projects
  • Conducts peer reviews of projects and portfolios to encourage feedback and continuous improvement
Candidate Assessment and Recordkeeping
  • Maintains the NJ EXCEL Requirements Checklist for each assigned candidate, submit complete Checklist to NJ EXCEL Coordinator for Research and Evaluation at end of program
  • Conducts quarterly reviews of candidates' portfolios to determine progress toward completion of program requirements:
    • Professional Growth Plan (PGP)
    • Personal Educational Platform (professional philosophy, vision for school leadership, personal professional code of ethics)
    • Reflective Journal
    • Inquiry Group Log
    • Internship Log
    • Action Research Project
    • Action Research Project Presentation
    • Job-Embedded Projects
    • Leadership e-folio
    • Module Activities
  • Completes formal assessment of Action Research Project, Action Research Project Presentation, and Job-Embedded Projects using NJ EXCEL Rubrics
  • Completes an e-Mentor Assessment Report at the end of the program that reflects the e-Mentor's summative assessment of the candidate's overall performance
Participation in Other NJ EXCEL Activities
  • Attends Candidate Orientation scheduled at beginning of program
  • Attends training for NJ EXCEL's On-Line Learning Community scheduled at beginning of program
  • Attends Action Research Project Presentations for Inquiry Group scheduled at end of program
  • Attends External Portfolio Reviews scheduled at end of program
  • Attendance at 1-2 e-Mentor Organizational Meetings during the year as neede
  • d
(Revised February 2004)

Include a School-Based Practicum With Expert Mentors

Participants in all six programs identified their fieldwork—a school-based internship, or residency—as second only to cohort interactions in effectiveness in engendering powerful professional learning. In most of the programs, participants are paired with mentor principals—professional experts committed to sharing successful practices and supporting the development of effective new principals. These programs use specific practices for identifying and selecting mentors. Several have published guidelines for mentoring and require mentor training that is focused on key instructional components, expectations, and program beliefs and value systems.

In Boston, the residency is the primary framework for learning. Each fellow has a paid, yearlong residency, four days a week, with one of Boston's most effective principals. As with all of these programs, Boston puts forth great effort into ensuring that theory and practice are integrated. Therefore, a course on learning theory, for example, is coupled with classroom observations of students and teachers during the residency. These observations are guided by the mentor principal to hone the fellows' skills in understanding students' learning processes and the instructional strategies of effective teachers. As one former fellow said, "The school was my classroom, and my teacher was my mentor principal. He identified what I needed to know by having me do the real work, and then he gave me feedback." That kind of mentoring helps the fellows construct meaning from the theory they are learning in their 70 days of coursework.

Since the fellow-mentor relationship is the linch-pin of the program, great care is taken to identify excellent mentors based on demonstrated leadership and mentoring skills, their schools' success in implementing the six Essentials of Whole School Improvement, and raising student achievement. Equal care is then taken in matching a fellow to a mentor.

Chicago's fellows begin a yearlong paid internship (again, with exemplary mentor principals) that includes both an elementary and secondary experience. Mentor principals are selected through an application and screening process. They are required to attend a half-day session at the summer leadership academy as well as seminars on coaching and feed back. Fellows and mentors sign a contract for each site experience—one elementary and one secondary—that explains each person's role in working to develop the fellow's skill in Chicago's principal leadership competencies. (See figure 8 for the mentor contract.)

New Leaders residents enter into a formal yearlong, full-time relationship with a successful mentor principal who shares his or her knowledge and experience and creates opportunities for the resident to take the lead in multiple aspects of the urban principal's role. The most direct support, however, is provided by a specially trained leadership coach who visits each resident and mentor at least once a week. Working with no more than 10 residents, coaches help structure the re sident-mentor relationship, as well as assist residents in integrating theory from course work into their day-to-day leadership challenges. Coaches are recruited from a pool of outstanding, retired urban principals, and they undergo their own training as a cadre in addition to attending the residents' summer coursework and seminars.

FIGURE 8. Principals Excellence Program Self-Assessment

Last four digits of SS# __ __ __ __
January 2003

Part V: Self-Assessment of Leadership Skills

In this part of the questionnaire, please give your candid assessment of your skills as a school administrator. Please respond to each statement in two ways. The first series of responses asks you to describe how it is today for you at the beginning of PEP (i.e., a beginning assessment). The second series of responses asks you to indicate how it should be for you at the close of PEP (i.e., a closing assessment). The possible response for each series are:

a. Not this way at all
b. Slightly the way
c. More this way than not
d. Largely this way
e. Completely this way

Circle the appropriate letter in the response column. Your two answers to the same questions may vary.

As an instructional leader, I have the skills to:
How it is How it should be
  Not Completely Not Completely
75. Ensure that decisions about curriculum, instructional strategies, and professional development are based on research literature, professional literature, school and district data, and other contextual information.
76. Establish a culture of high expectations for self, student, and staff performance linked to a collaboratively developed and implemented school improvement plan.
77. Evaluate teacher and staff performance by employing a variety of supervisory models.
78. Assess the culture and climate of the school through student peer groups, informal teacher leaders meetings, and surveys.
79. Measure, assess, and evaluate multiple sources of student data to determine effectiveness of educational program.
80. Identify, classify, and address barriers to student learning.
81. Monitor and maintain successful instructional practices that sustain ongoing student learning.
82. Complete the following statement: Examples of instructional practices for learning success are ___.

Build and Sustain Over Time

Each program studied conducts ongoing evaluations on several levels, using evaluation findings to continuously improve program performance and outcomes in ways that will help to sustain the program over time. The progress of each participant is tracked for both formative and summative purposes. Systematic monitoring of overall program effectiveness yields data used to guide program improvements.

Assessing Candidate Performance

The intent of candidate assessment in the six programs is to prepare candidates for success as principals in challenging schools. Indeed, each sees assessment as a learning tool. Rather than casting blame when assessment identifies the need for improvement, this system of intelligent accountability rewards learning and continued effort. The programs also recognize the need for public accountability, using assessment to verify and validate candidates' competency and readiness to take charge in a real school with the education of real students at stake.

In addition to serving as the foundation of each program's curriculum, the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards provide a framework for assessing candidates' performance and are the gauge by which candidates and program staff alike assess a candidate's professional growth over time. Each program has contextualized the ISLLC standards and aligned them with program performance goals. For example, NJ EXCEL's School Leader Standards Framework includes the six ISLLC standards and adds a seventh for technological leadership, a key program goal aligned with Technology Standards for School Administrators. NJ EXCEL inducts candidates into its program by developing their understanding of the standards-based requirements, expectations, and performance criteria against which their success in the program is measured. At the start of their program experience, candidates assess themselves against the program's standardsbased performance indicators. EXCEL then uses data from those assessments to guide instructional, mentoring, and coaching efforts. It also publishes for each cohort group a summary of program requirements, the timeframe for completing the requirements, a description of the assessments, and an indication of who will assess their performance. To prepare candidates for success, EXCEL provides them with exemplars of the types of work products and performances that have been judged as meeting the standards and have contributed to effective leadership on the job.

A Successful School Leadership Program:

  • Focuses on the program's vision of an effective school leader;

  • Uses a standards-based instructional program with clear performance indicators and outcome expectations;

  • Designs instruction based on adult-learn- ing theory and personal sense-making;

  • Includes a residency or internship with an exemplary principal and the expectation that the resident will be accountable for instructional leadership responsibilities;

  • Uses a cohort structure and provides frequent opportunities for reflecting on and discussing learning experiences and outcomes; and

  • Personalizes participant learning through close monitoring, coaching, and follow- through support after placement.

Chicago's LAUNCH program aspires to develop leaders capable of transforming ineffective schools into organizations that work for all students. LAUNCH has translated the ISLLC standards into its own Principal Competencies, which form the foundation of the program's standardsbased curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Its five standards and 24 performance indicators represent the goals that successful LAUNCH candidates will achieve. To facilitate their success, the program provides candidates with an assessment tool that they are expected to monitor throughout their program experience. To this end, LAUNCH has created a clear and focused assessment guide with a structure that lays out its standards and performance indicators in a page-by-page format. Each page presents one of the five standards with its related performance indicators, a description of the indicators at their highest level of performance, a list of competency-based learning opportunities, and a four-stage rubric that describes four developmental stages of competency (rudimentary, emerging, competent, and transformative).

That assessment guide enables candidates to continuously assess their progress, and it provides a focus for coaching and mentoring. Candidates use the feedback information to develop their own professional growth plan, and then use that plan as a tool for setting developmental goals. They document their work in a professional portfolio that is assessed by LAUNCH staff members, coaches, mentors, and others, using a rubric with which candidates have been familiarized.

Other programs follow a similar process. In Boston, fellows begin the program by completing a self-assessment on the district's 11 competencies of effective principals. Based on this assessment, the fellows work with their mentors and program staff to develop a personal learning contract that provides a map for their first four months. At the end of that period, both fellow and mentor review the contract, benchmark progress made toward its goals, and revise or set new goals for the balance of the program.

When participants begin Kentucky's PEP, they complete a comprehensive six-part survey that enables them to establish baseline data about their leadership skills. It also asks them to develop their own vision of the kind of leader they want to be. (Figure 9 displays one page of the 10-page survey.) The completed survey serves as a self-assessment and goal-setting tool that participants can use throughout their PEP experience to monitor their leadership development.

Every program maintains a rigorous academic gauge of candidate performance and publishes a grading or rubric system that is used for assessing the quality of candidates' coursework assignments, projects, and other work products. Most programs use a portfolio system as a cumulative file of projects, products, assessments, and observation records that document and verify candidates' professional growth and their readiness to successfully assume the role of leader in a difficult school.


The most telling data about a program's performance are those that portray its ability to reach its goals. In the case of school leadership preparation programs, data about the performance of graduates in leadership roles will provide a lens for assessing program effectiveness. Most of the programs in this study are not far enough along in their development to use this lens. Nonetheless, Chicago's LAUNCH program, which initiated its first cohort in 1998, is taking a courageous look at student performance on standardized tests in the schools where its graduates are serving as principals. LAUNCH has compiled five-year profiles of these schools to track student performance on the district's mandated standardized tests from 1999 through 2003. Each year these schools have made an average gain, with the highest gains in math. By tracking their graduates using school performance data, LAUNCH intends to investigate the relationship between its school leadership preparation program and improvements in student learning.

FIGURE 9. LAUNCH Mentor Contract

LAUNCH logo 2003 Apprenticeship Contract


Fellow: ________________________________________________

School: ________________________________________________

Date: _________________________________________________

I ________________, Principal of ___________________ (School)
agree to the following conditions during the Apprenticeship (August 18, 2003 - January 30, 2004):

  1. Allow the LAUNCH principal to shadow and work with with me in all aspects of the principalship.

  2. Meet with my LAUNCH principal regularly, one-on one, to plan, discuss and debrief day-to-day activities.

  3. Include the LAUNCH principal on my Administrative Leadership Team.

  4. Attend and actively participate at all LAUNCH professional development sessions.

  5. Commit to provide opportunities for the LAUNCH prinicpal to learn and practice all of the principal proficiencies listed in the Apprenticeship Guidebook, with particular focus on skills in categories L (Learning) and N (No experience).

  6. Commit to provide the support and guidance necessary to make the LAUNCH principal successful in the apprenticeship.

Mentor Signature




* I have seen and am aware of the responsibilities of the Mentor.
Fellow Signature


In Chicago, a public education fund has supported several external evaluations of LAUNCH's progress and outcomes relative to its goals. Findings indicate that LAUNCH principals perform more like veteran principals than their non-LAUNCH counterparts. Indeed, their leadership actions demonstrate that they understand the complexities of the principal's role and are able to guide instructional improvement from the outset of their principalship. In addition, findings show that LAUNCH has been able to recruit and place Latino principals, who traditionally have been underrepresented in Chicago public schools and that LAUNCH graduates appear to be more active than either other new leaders or veteran principals in obtaining professional development for themselves and their faculties.

Every program in the study relies on many partners and multiple measures to help evaluate and continuously improve itself. Feedback from candidates and mentors, as well as candidates' progress-as evidenced by their portfolios, for example-help gauge program and faculty effectiveness and guide mid-course and annual improvements. The First Ring Leadership Academy (FRLA) in Cleveland and PEP in Pike County use "barometer" surveys and focus groups to help identify perceptions about program responsiveness and effectiveness.

FRLA is also partnering with the Batelle Memorial Institute, a third-party evaluator, to establish a program evaluation protocol that will be used to collect field data about FRLA's graduates working in new leadership positions. The protocol process will collect observational and interview data that FRLA staff plan to use to identify program-wide strengths and weaknesses. Batelle evaluators will also use data collected by Academy staff, conduct surveys and observations, and establish a control group of non-participating first-year principals for comparison purposes.

In keeping with its core philosophy, New Leaders puts a major emphasis on using data analysis to determine program effectiveness. Data on candidate success, for example-during and after the program-provide feedback on the selection process. The program also tracks candidate placement rates and monitors student achievement results over time in schools led by program graduates. New Leaders' strategy of ongoing assessment ensures the development of outstanding principals, while also creating key learning to continuously improve the program model and to share with the field.

New Jersey EXCEL annually evaluates its program design and effectiveness against six program standards and related performance rubrics that are aligned with national accreditation standards for universities (see figure 10). The evaluation data are used to make formative adjustments in the program and they feed in to EXCEL's five-year evaluation plan that will report the program's long-term effectiveness.

FIGURE 10. NJ EXCEL Program Standards and Performance Rubric (page 1 of 2)

Logo -- njexcel Foundation for Educational Administration Expedited Certification for Educational Leadership
Program Evaluation Design and Standards
NJ EXCEL's Program Evaluation Design and Standards are aligned with the program accreditation process and standards utilized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) to ensure that NJ EXCEL's program effectiveness will be measured according to professional expectations for high quality leadership preparation.

Six (6) Program Standards are applied to the NJ EXCEL Program. Program Standards #1 and #2 focus on candidate performance outcomes, and Program Standards #3 through #6 address the components of a coherent program that supports candidate learning and performance. Together, the six Program Standards are designed to present strong evidence about the coherence, effectiveness, and results of the NJ EXCEL Program. A description of data sources for Program Standards 1, 3, 4 and 5 is attached. Program Evaluation Rubrics are designed to delineate the elements of each standard and describe three levels of program effectiveness for each element (Unacceptable, Acceptable, Target).
Program Standard #1
Candidate Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions (for New School Leaders)
Candidates know and demonstrate the professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to function as school leaders who have the ability to effectively create an environment that supports student learning and guide instruction that results in high achievement for all students. Assessments indicate that candidates meet performance standards aligned with NJ Standards for School Leaders and ISLLC national school leader standards and Technology Standards for School Administrators(TSSA).
Program Evaluation Rubrics:
Candidate Knowledge and Skills (including Technology)
Candidate Dispositions and Ethical Behavior (including Diversity)
Candidate Application to Practice: Performance
Program Standard #2
Assessment System and Program Evaluation
The program's assessment system collects and analyzes data on applicant qualifications, candidate and graduate performance, and program implementation to evaluate and continually improve the program.
Program Evaluation Rubrics:
Assessment System
Data Collection, Analysis, & Evaluation
Use of Data for Program Improvement
(Rev. March 2004 Manual Section 1)

All of the programs have demonstrated a culture of continuous improvement and professional excellence. Each defines success differently, but all show relentless energy in striving to achieve it.


The six leadership preparation programs in this study are distinct strategic responses to one underlying crisis: the pervasive need to identify, recruit, prepare, and place high-quality principals in our nation's schools. While this crisis is most acutely experienced in challenging urban and rural areas, the problem of an insufficient applicant pool or pipeline of effective school principals is spreading into every region of the United States. Without more innovative pathways to leadership certification, the problem is likely to worsen with 40 percent of current school principals eligible for retirement in the very near future.10

Common Features Across the Six Innovative Programs:

  1. An initial base of support that includes partnerships with key stakeholders and funders to finance "start-up" costs of planning, development, and early implementation;

  2. A commitment on the part of program developers to do the extremely hard work of developing, establishing, and implementing the program over a minimum of three to five years;

  3. A research-based vision of what an effective principal does to lead instructional improvement and student achievement gains;

  4. A focused theory of action about program development and instructional design based on the vision;

  5. Candidate selection criteria and screening process that reflects the vision and the capability of the program;

  6. Structuring participant groups into continuing cohorts that frequently meet to discuss what they are experiencing and learning about the principal's job;

  7. Authentic learning experiences that incorporate on-the-job, practical realities of the principal's work;

  8. Frequent structured opportunities for participants to do personal reflection and performance assessment; and

  9. Structured program monitoring and assessment through feedback, participants' performance in the program, and participants' success on the job after the program

Simultaneously, across the country, elected officials, policymakers, parents, and educators themselves are pressing schools for higher returns on the public investment. This press for improvement reflects discontent with the results our schools are yielding and our understanding that, as a society, we are not yet meeting our responsibility for ensuring that every child achieves academic success. A growing body of research suggests that we will only be able to do that when we improve the ability of principals to skillfully remove barriers to learning and put in place conditions for academic success.11

Each program had a unique creative approach that enabled it to move beyond traditional structures. Every program started with a profound belief that what currently existed was insufficient for meeting the urgent need. An ability to work both with and around existing structures, leaving them intact and building relationships with them, allowed the innovative new programs to gain some footing, then some traction, and, ultimately, make sure-footed progress.

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006