Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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New Leaders for New Schools, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Memphis, and San Francisco Bay Area

Partners School Districts: Chicago, Memphis, New York City, SanFrancisco Bay Area (Aspire charter school program), Washington D.C.; Broad Foundation; New Schools Venture Fund; Boeing; New Profit
Program Initiated 2000
Admission Requirements Bachelor's degree; five years professional experience; two years k-12 teaching experience; demonstrated leadership
No. of Participants (2005) 90
(2004) 56
(2003) 52
(2002) 31
(2001) 13
Participant Demographics 2004
Gender: 60% female
Ethnicity: 60% African American, 30% White, 7% Hispanic, 3% Asian Am.
Length of Instructional Program Three years that include: 5-6 week summer intensive; yearlong, full-time residency; 4-5 day sessions during residency; 2 years of coaching and support following placement.
Certification, Credits Earned Principal certification (partner with local universities to ensure credentialing)

New Leaders for New Schools is a national, New York City-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster high academic achievement for every child by recruiting and developing the next generation of outstanding leaders for the nation's urban public schools. It has already established successful partnerships with public school systems and charter schools in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Memphis, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and plans call for expansion to additional urban areas each year.

New Leaders is the brainchild of three passionate co-founders: a former education policy advisor for the Clinton administration, an education reform advocate specializing in charter schools, and a former management consultant. In early 2000, New Leaders became the first nonprofit to win an award in the Harvard Business School's annual business plan contest. Funding offers followed, and in June New Leaders began operation. Five core beliefs undergird and drive every aspect of its work:

  • Every child can reach high levels of academic excellence, regardless of background;

  • Adults are accountable for building and maintaining systems to ensure that all children excel academically. Adults can and must do more to unlock the potential of each and every student;

  • Delivering high-quality public education to all children is a cornerstone of our democracy, economy, and society, and it is critical to sustaining a just society that affords every child the full range of opportunities in life;

  • Great principals lead great schools, coaching and inspiring teachers to reach and teach every child and collaborating with students' parents, families, and communities to make schools work; and

  • With access to outstanding public schools, all children will develop the competence, critical thinking, and social and civic skills to reach their highest potential in the classroom and in life.

Selection Process

New Leaders aggressively recruits nationwide, seeking extremely talented people to become urban school principals. Recruitment for its 2004 candidates began in September 2003 with a campaign that included an executive-search-style approach of creating local and national nominator networks that extended to 17 education and professional conferences across the country. Many of its presentations were targeted to attract individuals outside the traditional education-based candidate pool. New Leaders received over 2,600 applications for its first 150 fellowships, representing a selection rate of 6 percent. Many applicants were also attracted to New Leaders from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project pools.

A three-phase system is used to screen and select candidates based on nine selection criteria describing the qualities, values, and beliefs New Leaders seeks in its candidates. These criteria (along with descriptive indicators) are posted on the New Leaders Web site so potential applicants can assess their own readiness for the program:

  • An unyielding belief in the potential of all children to excel academically;

  • Persistence and determination;

  • Problem-solving skills;

  • Project management skills to deliver results;

  • Knowledge of teaching and learning;

  • Self-awareness and commitment to ongoing learning;

  • Excellent communication and listening skills;

  • The ability to build successful relationships; and

  • The ability to collaborate and build teams.

The first of four application steps is the online completion and submission of a substantive 14-page questionnaire designed to capture an applicant's capacity on five of the selection criteria. (The remaining four criteria are assessed in following steps.) For example, one questionnaire item requires applicants to demonstrate a record of formal or informal leadership in bringing together diverse groups of adults to accomplish a common mission. Applicants must also have a bachelor's degree (or preferably a master's degree) and a minimum of five years of professional management or leadership experience in organizations such as nonprofits, military service, social services, and higher education and at least two years as a teacher. Approximately 50 percent of the applicants are screened out by the questionnaire.

Those who make it through this first screening then participate in an hour-and-a-half interview, which gives candidates an opportunity to share their experiences and discuss their interests in becoming urban school principals. At this stage, each candidate is also asked to write a 15-minute analysis of a case study. Approximately 50 percent of those interviewed successfully make it through this stage.

Successful first-round applicants are invited to participate in the final phase of the selection process--a full-day interview session. Activities during this phase include a written assignment, one-on-one interviews, case studies, role-playing, and a presentation. Candidates have the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a principal. Throughout the interview process evaluators use a comprehensive set of rubrics that are aligned with the selection criteria to rate applicants. Those who advance to this phase must bring to the interview their official transcripts, teaching certificate(s), at least one formal letter of reference from a supervisor, and a brief essay stating preferences for a mentor principal and school.

For the 2004 program, 56 candidates were admitted out of an initial pool of 1,100 applicants. New Leaders staff members assert that this acceptance rate of less than 6 percent demonstrates the rigorous and demanding design of the selection process and the aptness of the nine selection criteria. Over the last four years, New Leaders received over 2,600 applications for its first 150 fellowships.

Program Design and Practical Learning Experiences

New Leaders' program includes five years of support, a six-week intensive leadership training summer institute, a yearlong, full-time residency with a mentor principal, on-site coaching, and working directly with a leadership coach--an outstanding veteran of an urban school principalship. New Leaders' curriculum content is closely aligned with the organization's core beliefs, selection criteria, theory of educational leadership, and the New Leaders Principal Leadership Competencies. These 12 essential competencies reflect research on the practices of urban school principals who have successfully turned around low-performing schools. To complete the program, candidates must demonstrate proficiency in all 12 competencies.

The program begins with a six-week Foundations Institute at the Wharton School of Management at the University of Pennsylvania. During this stage candidates attend university-level courses taught by outstanding principals, national education and leadership experts, and New Leaders staff. Courses focus on skill development in instructional and transformational leadership. This summer institute also helps to build a national community of peers focused on common goals.

Following the six-week summer institute, candidates are placed with carefully selected mentor principals at schools within partner districts for a full-time residency that spans the length of the school year. During this residency, candidates are expected to have direct responsibility for improving student achievement and teacher development and coaching. They also attend weekly seminars for ongoing professional development and peer support in their local districts, and they receive bimonthly visits from their leadership coaches. New Leaders coaches and field support staff lead the seminars and use participants' authentic experiences as a concrete basis for discussing school leadership theory. Because state certification requirements vary (e.g., some states have minimal requirements for teaching credentials while others have complex, multi-step requirements), New Leaders also creates opportunities for candidates to earn full state certification with a local university partner.

During the residency there are also four five-day Foundation Seminars, continuing the transformational and instructional leadership concentrations that began during the summer Foundations Institute. Held in program cities and attended by all residents, these seminars provide an opportunity for the national community to reconvene, share experiences, and provide peer support.

During the residency, candidates receive mentoring from a leadership coach, recruited from a pool of principals who have retired after successful careers leading excellent urban schools. New Leaders has developed a coaching-skills curriculum, and it brings the national cadre of coaches together for training four times a year. The coaches also participate in both the summer Foundations Institute and the four Foundations Seminars throughout the year. Coaches visit each resident and mentor principal at the residency site at least once a week to help structure the resident's working relationship and leadership responsibilities with the mentor principal. They also help residents define a personal leadership development plan and construct a professional portfolio of their accomplishments during the residency, and they serve as the faculty of record for residents' coursework and assignments. Coaches are also responsible for conducting formal assessments of residents' progress to evaluate each resident's readiness for the principalship.

All candidates are required to make a long-term commitment to the partner school district in which they are placed. In addition to completing their paid residency, they commit to spending a minimum of three years as a principal or an assistant principal in the district. Each successful new leader receives job-seeking support. They also receive at least two years of coaching and mentoring during their first principalship, along with opportunities for collaboration and problem solving with other new leaders.

Key Success Factors

New Leaders for New Schools has generated significant support from a wide variety of partners, including strategic consulting firm Kirkland and Ellis. Active funders of the New Leaders preparation program include several of the nation's leading venture philanthropists, such as the Boston-based New Profit, Inc., the Silicon Valley-based New Schools Venture Fund, and the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation.

New Leaders' core philosophy and theory of action emphasize the use of data analysis as a means of determining personal, professional, organizational, and program effectiveness. Because the program is still relatively new, extensive success data is not yet available. However, program staff have been tracking placement rates since the beginning and that rate for successful residents is 95 percent, including 60 percent as principals and 35 percent as assistant principals. Close to 100 "new leaders" have emerged from the program and are now serving in urban schools around the country.

The New Leaders staff identify the following factors as important to program success:

  • A commitment of the founders and staff to the program's vision, mission, and theory of action about ensuring that urban schools are environments in which all children achieve at high levels;

  • A coherence between core beliefs, vision, mission, selection criteria, and principal competencies that provides a scaffold for everything the organization does;

  • Rigorous application, screening, selection, and admission processes;

  • Alignment of the curriculum with the selection criteria and principal leadership competencies;

  • A culture of honesty, transparency, and feedback;

  • A consistent use of data and feedback to strengthen the program;

  • Direct and frequent support, feedback, and expertise from leadership coaches;

  • The continuing leadership and ability of the national team to secure funding, streamline organizational operations, and monitor program coherence and quality; and

  • Partnerships across the public and private sectors in each city--including the school district, corporations, foundations, and government.

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006