Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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Principals Excellence Program, Pike County, Ky.

Partners University of Kentucky, Ky. Department of Education, Ky. Association of School Administrators, AEL, U.S. Department of Education
Program Initiated 2002
Admission Requirements Holds or is eligible to hold principal certification
No. of Participants (2004) 15
(2003) 15
Participant Demographics 2004
Gender: 33% female
Ethnicity: 100% White
Length of Instructional Program Twelve months that include: one day each week over academic year; one-week summer intensive.
Certification, Credits Earned 18-21 UKY credits toward Level II Principal or Supervisor of Instruction certification

The Principals Excellence Program (PEP) is a partnership between the University of Kentucky and eastern Kentucky's rural Pike County School District, in cooperation with Morehead State University, which historically has trained most of the district's teachers and administrators. The program aims to enhance the leadership skills of practicing and aspiring principals in high-need Appalachian schools. Its overarching goal is to develop and refine a model for improved school leadership that ensures learning for rural school students considered at risk of academic failure. Its specific objectives are to:

  1. Create a new generation of skilled instructional leaders and nurture a culture of learning that influences recruitment, preparation, and selection of future school leaders;

  2. Institutionalize a grow-your-own strategy for empowering instructional leaders throughout the local community and within the school community of students and parents; and

  3. Model and evaluate a program of preparation, professional development, and reculturation of school leadership to ensure learning for struggling students, utilizing a partnership among the local high-need rural school district, the state's larger land-grant university, and the regional public university that provides preservice preparation.

The PEP program consists of an interconnected series of seminar-workshops, field-based experiences, and structured reflections aimed at developing a professional community of principals who are able and willing to be change agents-- reflective practitioners committed to lifelong learning and the use of data to drive decision-making. As a critical part of this advanced leadership development program, participants engage each semester in a field-based practicum intended to support situated learning under the guidance of carefully selected mentor principals and to develop participants' ability to conduct collaborative action research.

Selection Process

PEP's recruitment and selection processes are aimed at finding the best possible leadership candidates. PEP requires that each candidate be nominated by an administrator or other staff member who perceives the candidate's leadership potential. Participants must be practicing principals, classroom teachers, or other education personnel who qualify to receive provisional administrator certification and who sign an agreement to complete the training and seek a position as a school leader. Recruitment guidelines identify specific characteristics needed by Pike County school leaders who will effectively serve children and youth considered at risk of academic problems. The candidate must:

  • Understand Kentucky's Learning Goals;

  • Believe that all children can learn at high levels;

  • Have a thorough knowledge of curriculum and assessment;

  • Demonstrate instructional leadership within his or her school community;

  • Show evidence of being a master teacher;

  • Work well as a team member;

  • Show evidence of being a lifelong learner; and

  • Understand the teaching and learning process.

PEP initially set out to identify and recruit from Pike County and other regional school districts two 15-member cohorts of practicing and aspiring school leaders for advanced leadership development. Candidates had been identified by Pike County district leaders as having the potential to become effective principals or assistant principals in the district's schools. While large geographically, Pike County has a small population, with most people living in little pocket communities. As a result, district administrators tend to know teachers and principals very well. This familiarity enables them to select good candidates. The first PEP cohort (January-December 2003) of 15 participants included eight practicing principals or assistant principals and seven aspiring principals who held administrator certification but currently served as classroom teachers, curriculum coordinators, deans or media specialists. The second PEP cohort (January-December 2004) included nine administrators and six teachers.

Program Design and Practical Learning Experiences

PEP is a practical, field-based, job-embedded leadership development program guided by leadership educators from the University of Kentucky and leadership practitioners from Pike County that is delivered through a closed cohort model. This cohort structure--a uniquely defined community of learners that remains intact throughout the entire program--is considered a key program element. Early and ongoing community-building strategies ensure the creation and maintenance of a risk-free learning environment within the cohort. PEP integrates multiple learning opportunities geared toward exposing participants to various situations and venues where diverse leadership skills can be developed. PEP includes: (a) biweekly full-day seminar-workshops; (b) biweekly clinical practicum during spring semester guided by elementary principal mentors; (c) biweekly clinical practicum during fall semester guided by secondary principal mentors; (d) ongoing Web-based activities; and (e) a summer institute involving all school administrators in the partnering district.

During the spring, PEP cohort members engage in a coordinated series of biweekly advanced educational leadership seminars and school-site action research activities. The seminars, delivered by University of Kentucky faculty in the Department of Administration and Supervision, focus on visionary and collaborative leadership practices. During alternative weeks, PEP participants work with mentor principals in selected elementary schools in Pike County, conducting action research to identify strategies to improve student learning.

During the summer, PEP cohort members join all Pike County school administrators for an intensive, weeklong leadership academy. For the program's first summer, a leadership consultant from the Kentucky Association of School Administrators Leadership Academy guided Pike County administrators in a review of the district's P-12 curriculum and intensive action planning to meet targeted student achievement goals in mathematics and science. That fall, the biweekly advanced leadership seminars with university faculty focused on instructional and ethical leadership practices. Action research was conducted in three secondary schools within Pike County.

The second cohort began the program in January 2004 and will continue through December 2004, following the same general pattern as the first, but in a more streamlined version that was developed based on feedback and program assessment. Nearby Johnson County became a partner for the second PEP cohort.

Pike County School District has developed and implemented a comprehensive model of administrator evaluation using the ISLLC standards performance indicators as the framework. Thus, to align with the district's administrator performance framework, the PEP curriculum is structured on the four central and recurring themes within the ISLLC standards:

  • A vision for success;

  • A focus on teaching and learning;

  • An involvement of all stakeholders; and

  • A demonstration of ethical behavior.

Both formal and informal data inform and drive the actions of PEP's instructional and leadership teams. Focus group interviews involving Cohort A members were conducted in March 2003 and October 2003. Additional focus group interviews for Cohort A were scheduled for fall 2004. An evaluation survey was administered at the close of the first training module and at the beginning of the third module; another post-survey was administered at the close of Cohort A in December 2003. Formal data collection for Cohort B is proceeding in the same way.

Success Factors

Although PEP formally began in January 2003, its impact on the community of administrative practice was becoming noticeable during the summer institute held in Pikeville during June 2003. Pike County district leadership team members who observed the summer institute noted marked differences in interactions among district administrators: The group appeared to be a more supportive, collaborative community of practice. One participant-observer noted participants' increased displays of confidence and competence as educational leaders. According to the project director, practicing principals involved in PEP say, "they continue to learn more about the practice of educational administration through the PEP network--despite their breadth and depth of experiences as principals."

PEP receives grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education's School Leadership Development Program through September 2005 that allows for a formal program evaluation. Pike County School District hopes to be able to continue the program internally using district administrators as instructors. Reflecting on the progress and successes of the program, University of Kentucky faculty, Pike County School District administrators, and PEP participants identified the following contributing factors:

  • The collaborative partnership and shared vision between the Pike County School District--especially the superintendent--and the University of Kentucky faculty;

  • Seed funding to support start-up costs;

  • Shared responsibility between the university and the district for developing curriculum, monitoring PEP candidates' progress, and planning for the logistical implementation of PEP sessions;

  • The integration of the curriculum with authentic tasks and reality-based examples from PEP participants' experiences;

  • The ongoing assessment of cohort progress to ensure that program components were logically interconnected and delivered at relevant times to provide program coherence;

  • The strong commitment of university faculty and district leadership to "get the job done" and then celebrate publicly to acknowledge accomplishments; and

  • The consistent in-district monitoring of PEP activities by the district's director of curriculum and instruction and a leadership consultant who also provides on-site coaching support for new principals.

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006