Do As I Do, And As I Say: Experiential Training for NYC’s Principals
On a recent school day, the large wall calendar hanging in Phuong Nguyen’s office at East Bronx Academy for the Future—a small public middle school where she served as a principal in training, an understudy for the role she will fulfill on her own next year—was jam-packed with color-coded tasks and appointments, all written in Nguyen’s neat print.
If the calendar was full, it reflects only a fraction of what Nguyen—a 2007 participant in New Leaders For New Schools, a national non-profit that selects and trains accomplished educators to become urban principals—got done in a day. Nguyen is part of a growing cadre of educators across the city and country who are training to become principals by spending a year essentially doing what principals do, guided by targeted support and rigorous training.
During her residence year, Nguyen’s typical work day looked like this: she arrived at school by 7 am for an hour of what she called “quiet time,” which amounted to completing hefty amounts of paperwork, including writing observations and suggestions for teachers whose classrooms she had visited. At 7:45, Nguyen walked the halls and greeted students and staff; at 8 am, she performed “morning duty,” supervising breakfast in the cafeteria. For the rest of the morning, once classes began, Nguyen visited classrooms and worked on three ongoing projects: developing a math literacy curriculum, enhancing data driven instruction, and building instructional leaders among her staff. Then, it was lunch duty in the cafeteria, followed by more classroom visits and project work in the afternoon. At the end of the school day, Nguyen attended weekly meetings with her leadership coach and training seminars with other “New Leaders.”
“The theoretical aspects combined with the practical application really give me a solid grounding for the profession,” she said. This school year, one in five NYC public school principals are graduates of experiential training programs: 252 principals graduated from the NYC Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principals program and 39 from New Leaders. Between the two programs, an additional 49 graduates are assistant principals, and 22 serve in other school-based leadership roles.
Many graduates of New Leaders, in keeping with that program’s mission, have opened their own new, usually small schools. Nguyen is spending this school year working for the NYC Department of Education at the Office of New Schools, while she prepares to open a small middle school in September 2008, where she will serve as principal. Other new principals from both programs take posts at existing schools that need a change in leadership.
“Our participants go into the hardest-to-staff schools and underserved neighborhoods,” said Sandra Stein, CEO of the NYC Leadership Academy, a non-profit created by Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg that also offers ongoing support to all NYC DOE principals in their first four years.
Improving student achievement and the philosophy that “all students can learn” – forms a key component to the mission of both Leadership Academy and New Leaders and is accompanied by an increase in principals’ autonomy to make budgeting, staff, and support service decisions.
“We have clear, high accountability goals called the 90/90 goals,” Mashea Ashton, Executive Director of the New York program of New Leaders for New Schools stated.
“This means that, by 2009, 90% of students in our schools would be proficient in 90% of subject areas, and we would have a 90% graduate rate.”
New Leaders partnered with researchers from RAND Corporation, which will evaluate New Leaders’ progress towards its 90/90 goals through a four-year longitudinal study. Preliminary findings show that in 2007, NYC public schools led by New Leaders principals for three years or more had an average 3-year gain of about 10 percentage points in math and 5 points in ELA, and that 43% of New Leaders-led elementary schools outperformed the district in both ELA and math. “In New York City, our New Leaders led schools are making substantial gains, but they are not yet dramatic enough to reach our high standards for all students,” Ashton said.
Beyond a commitment to improving student achievement, the two programs share common features in how they go about attaining that commitment. They recruit and select educators with a record of high student achievement and leadership. They immerse those educators in an intensive summer training – “which a lot of participants like to call boot camp,” Stein said with a smile – comprised of instructional seminars and individual and group activities designed to simulate the challenges that urban principals face.
And they guide those educators through a residence year, in which each “Aspiring Principal” or “New Leader” is assigned a school and “mentor principal” – the actual principal of the school, in some cases a graduate of the program – and completes a host of typical duties, from giving instructional training and support to teachers to handling student disciplinary issues to managing the school’s budget.#