Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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Part II: Program Profiles

    Boston Principal Fellowship Program, Boston, Mass.

    Partners University of Massachusetts,
    Broad Foundation,
    U.S. Department of Education
    Program Initiated 2003
    Admission Requirements Bachelor's degree; three years experience in teaching, youth development, or management; pass state licensure exam
    No. of Participants (2005) 11
    (2004) 10

    Participant Demographics

    Gender: 60% female
    Ethnicity: 64% White, 26% African American, 5% Asian Am., 5% Hispanic
    Gender: 70% female
    Ethnicity: 70% African American,
    20% Hispanic, 10% White
    Length of Instructional Program Twelve months that include: five-week summer intensive; yearlong residency; 60 days of coursework; and two years of support following placement.
    Certification, Credits Earned Initial Principal License Option of MEd
    Or CAGS from UMASS

    In 1995, after analyzing schools that were effective in teaching low-income urban students and reviewing the effective-schools literature, Boston came up with six Essentials of Whole School Improvement to guide its own efforts:

    • 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.

    At the heart of Boston Public Schools' improvement effort is the core belief that leadership is the single most important factor in bringing about real school change. This belief is manifested in the district's School Leadership Institute (SLI), developed to recruit, prepare, and support the next generation of Boston's school leaders. In 2003, SLI launched the Boston Principal Fellowship (BPF) in response to the district's need for skillful new principals who could "hit the ground running." SLI also established the New Principal Support System to provide follow-through and coaching for new principals. In combination, these two programs build a strong, knowledgeable and committed school leadership workforce in Boston's neediest schools.

    The BPF set out to identify, recruit, prepare, place, and support new
    principals in its most challenging schools and to serve as the district's preferred pathway to principalship. The first BPF cohort of 10 "fellows" started in June 2003, followed in June 2004 by a second cohort of 11 fellows. After successfully completing an intensive 12-month experience that integrates theory and practice, candidates may apply for a principal or assistant principal position. Once these beginning principals start their new job, the SLI provides two years
    of support through its new principal support system.

    Selection Process

    The most important step in preparing new principals, stresses the BPF
    executive director, is to "get the right people on the bus." Recruiting and screening potential candidates is a carefully structured process. The district actively and broadly recruits candidates through its Web site, through announcements and advertisements in national school leadership journals, local newspapers, and through recommendations from other principals. Word -of-mouth is another reliable source. The BPF admissions process consists of a written application (including two essays), a performance assessment for semi- finalists, and an interview for finalists.

    Minimally, applicants must have a bachelor of arts—a master of arts is preferred. In addition, applicants must have:

    • A minimum of three years experience in teaching (any p–16 level), youth development, social work, counseling, or nonprofit or business management;

    • Evidence of experience as a successful leader;

    • Willingness to relocate (if necessary) and commit to working in Boston Public Schools for a minimum of three years following fellowship;

    • The ability and time commitment for immersion in an intense yearlong learning experience that includes some nights and weekends, academic coursework, research, reports, and field-based projects; and

    • Official results from (or proof of registration to take)
      the Communication and Literacy Skills section of the
      Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure.

    Applicants who successfully make it through the initial screening participate in an interview with a BPF team looking for individuals who: see themselves as lifelong learners; understand the elements of effective instruction; display an ability to think outside the box and be a critical thinker and a complex problem solver; demonstrate good listening skills; exhibit an ability to work as an effective team member; articulate a personal theory of leadership; demonstrate persistence
    and follow-through; and display a knowledge of current research
    and literature related to educational leadership.

    Screening teams at all stages consist of principals, teacher-leaders, higher education faculty, and Boston Public Schools central office administrators.

    Fellows become employees of the Boston Public Schools and receive a full salary and benefits that are comparable to the position they leave in order to participate in the program. In accepting the salary, fellows agree to work in the Boston Public Schools for three years. Upon completing the residency and course requirements, they have the option of receiving a master's degree or a certificate of advanced graduate studies from the University of Massachusetts–Boston. The cost of this option, estimated at $4,000, is the responsibility of the fellow.

    Program Design and Practical Learning Experiences

    The BPF curriculum integrates the theory behind Boston's six Essentials with the knowledge and skills required to implement them and carry out the pivotal role of instructional leader. The two major program components are a yearlong four-days-a-week residency with one of Boston's most effective principals—a mentor principal—and 85 days of coursework and seminars. Fellows participate in coursework for five weeks in the summer and one day per week and one weekend per month during their residency experience. The classes take place at the BPS professional development center and are taught by national experts, district leaders with recognized expertise in one or more topics, and faculty from local universities. To help synthesize their learning, fellows are given assignments designed to address real needs in the schools where they work as residents or issues they will face as new principals. For example, one resident developed a weekly training program for new teachers on instructional strategies to accelerate children's early reading development. They also keep reflective journals, using them in part as a source for questions that can be discussed in the seminars.

    Mentor principals are selected because of their demonstrated leadership skills, their schools' success in implementing the six Essentials and raising student achievement levels, and their skills in and commitment to mentoring. Because a strong match between a fellow and mentor principal is critical to each candidate's success, pairings are made with great care.

    One 2003–04 program participant said, "The school was my classroom, and my mentor principal was my teacher. He identified what I needed to know by having me do the real work, and then he gave me feedback." This candidate saw the fellow-mentor relationship as a critical laboratory for testing his emerging theory of leadership: "The most important thing I learned was how to organize and work through groups of adults. That's how a principal improves the school."
    In addition to the residency, considered by most fellows to be the program's most significant source of learning and preparation, many program graduates cite their interactions with fellow cohort members as another critical element of BPF. They came to recognize the expertise of their colleagues and were able to benchmark their own progress against that of their cohort members.

    The program curriculum and residency are designed to engender 11 very concrete competencies that Boston has defined as essential to effective school leadership (e.g., understanding how children and adults learn). Since each fellow comes to the program with a different set of skills and experiences, candidates start in July by doing a self-assessment related to the competencies. The results are then used to develop an individualized learning plan that guides the first six months of a candidate's fellowship. The plan outlines specific types of experiences and activities that a fellow and his or her mentor will focus on during the residency. Some examples include planning and implementing a parent engagement strategy, leading a faculty meeting to analyze student performance data and identify their instructional implications, and conferencing with a set of parents regarding their child's learning progress.

    In January, the fellow, his or her mentor principal, and the BPF executive director review the candidate's progress on the learning goals and, based on that assessment, revise or set new goals for the next three months. Fellows also begin to identify their placement goals for the following school year (e.g., principal, assistant principal). In early May, the same trio meets again to review the fellow's progress and readiness to assume the full responsibility of a principalship. The fellow's self-assessment and mentor feedback, along with the observations of the BPF executive director, guide decisions regarding the kind of position a fellow is ready to take on during the next school year.

    BPF's curriculum is organized into a developmental sequence that builds fellows' understanding of the principles and practices that underlie the BPF Essentials. The content is structured into four "cornerstone" initiatives and one "capstone" initiative, all addressing some number of the competencies, illustrating the interconnection of the Essentials, and integrating the coursework and the residency. Collectively, the initiatives provide a continuous, yearlong focus on critical levers for school improvement. Cornerstone and capstone instructors include principals and other school leaders, higher-education faculty, and community leaders.

    As part of the first cornerstone, Analyzing Instruction and Supporting Improvement, fellows observe students and teachers in their classrooms to hone their understanding of students' learning processes and the instructional strategies of effective teachers. Building on this foundation, they then learn elements of teacher supervision and evaluation and examine how to use these processes as levers for instructional improvement. Finally, through participation in regular "learning walks" both at their residency school and in schools across the city, they become skilled in analyzing instruction in classrooms and schools and in giving feedback that supports improvement in practice.

    In the second cornerstone, Family and Community Engagement, candidates deepen their understanding of how schools can most effectively partner with parents and the community and how the principal can lead this effort. Fellows build their understanding of family and community interests by participating in their school's School Site Council and School Parent Council. Simultaneously, they assume leadership of a team to examine family and community engagement at their school. This builds their skills in research, needs assessment, asset mapping, action-plan development and implementation, working with a diverse population, and facilitating and
    mobilizing teams.

    In the third cornerstone, Leadership and Management, fellows deepen their understanding of what a principal does to enhance the learning and achievement of all students. Through coursework and individual learning plans, and by assuming leadership and closely observing their principal mentor and school leaders, fellows develop and are expected to demonstrate a deep understanding of how leaders promote core values to shape culture and bring about organizational change. At the same time, through coursework and engagement with and analysis of operations, budgets, and the use of other resources, fellows develop and begin to practice a theory of management. This cornerstone culminates in fellows developing transition and entry plans to be used when they assume school leadership roles.

    The fourth cornerstone, Scaling Up Instructional Improvement, focuses on what is required to reach every classroom, every teacher, and every student. Fellows learn the skills required to implement a continuous cycle of improvement, including analyzing and using data on student performance and teacher practice to support improvement; identifying instructional priorities; creating and implementing professional development that supports teachers in addressing instructional priorities; tracking implementation and impact through classroom observations and student performance; and continually refining the cycle in response to data.

    The capstone, Leadership and Learning, ties together all of the competencies of effective principals and the four cornerstones of the program. Leadership is a specific set of skills introduced through the Leadership and Management cornerstone, as well as the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that cut across all the cornerstones. Fellows' leadership determines their effectiveness in their residencies and, looking forward, their effectiveness as principals who are able to: create a vision; organize a school around that vision; develop a culture that places students and their learning at the center; create relationships and structures essential to implementing the vision; and hold high expectations for students and staff and support them in reaching the expectations.

    In the spring, as fellows complete the program, they meet individually with BPS district administrators and pursue positions for the next school year. Fellows who are hired as principals continue to receive mentoring and coaching support for two years following their placement. Fellows point to this continuing support and the additional support from networking with their cohort members as key elements in their early successes as school leaders.

    Key Success Factors

    Although BPF is in an early stage of development, its impact on BPS is impressive. BPF fellows demonstrate an ability to "hit the ground running" when they become principals—especially in challenging and low-performing schools. As a result of its districtwide school improvement efforts over the last seven years, Boston is realizing steady improvements in student achievement and has made significant progress in closing the achievement gap that exists between black and Hispanic students and white students. The district has been recognized nationally for having a coherent and comprehensive improvement strategy that yields results, most recently as a semi-finalist for the prestigious Broad Prize in education. The district anticipates that BPF will play a significant role in its continuing improvement because of the "ready-to-succeed" principals the program produces.The BPF Program received seed funding from the U.S. Department of Education's School Leadership Program and the Broad Foundation that will sustain it through 2006. Planning is underway to secure more
    long-term funding to ensure BPF's continued contribution to Boston Public Schools.

    The BPF model demonstrates how a school district can prepare principals to lead schools through whole school improvement grounded in leadership theory and principles and targeted to the goals of the district. BPF leaders and participants attribute the program's success to the following key elements:

    • The vision of a new model of school leadership specifically focused on the Boston Public Schools' six Essentials of Whole School Improvement;

    • A research-based theory of action about effective school leadership;

    • A rigorous, thoughtful screening process to select applicants with the most potential;

    • A strongly held core belief that all children can and will learn when the principals of their schools are effective, knowledgeable instructional leaders;

    • Strong support and leadership from the district superintendent;

    • Understanding of the principal's pivotal role in whole school improvement;

    • Alignment of program curriculum with state and national leadership standards and performance indicators;

    • Consistent use of data and feedback to strengthen the program;

    • Direct and frequent feedback to fellows from faculty, mentor principals, and BPF staff; and

    • Tight articulation among standards, BPS Essentials, residency, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006