Hoping to change urban education one school at a time, Jonathan Schnur and some colleagues founded New Leaders for New Schools, a training program for principals. By meshing coursework, on-the-job training, and mentoring from administrators and executives, New Leaders hopes to produce principals who can turn schools around. Included: Program participants share their perspectives.
As a member of the U.S. Department of Educations staff a few years ago, Jonathan Schnur said he found a common denominator among great schools: they had great principals. So, after leaving the Department of Education, Schnur and some colleagues came up with a plan to train people -- both from inside and outside the field of education -- to staff the principals offices of Americas schools.
We wanted to create an urban principals corps, said Schnur, co-founder and chief executive officer of the two-and-a-half-year-old New Leaders for New Schools. We developed a business plan, and three out of five of us decided to do this full-time.
New Leaders recruits, trains, and mentors individuals to serve as administrators in urban schools. Mentors come from both the education and business world; among New Leaders newest and most prominent corporate mentors is Boeing Company chief executive officer Phil Condit.
New Leader programs operate in Chicago, New York City, and California. Participants, or "fellows," begin their training with a summer of intensive coursework, followed by an academic-year-long residency at a school. Each resident works with the school's principal and meets with his or her corporate mentor. The mentoring continues for two years after the residency ends.
Currently, the principal corps has 48 fellows; 15 working as assistant principals or principals and 33 as residents. Most participants have an educational background, although people with no education training can apply.
New Leaders hopes to recruit 65 people for the program that will begin in the summer of 2003, Schnur said. Last year, 600 people completed applications for 48 openings. [The response] demonstrates that a lot of talented people are interested in changing schools, given the right opportunities, Schnur told Education World. We think this [program] has significant implications.
New Leaders aims to improve urban schools by selecting for their program people who have the potential to be strong leaders in the areas of instruction, management, and school change; by providing them with intensive training and support; and then by helping to place them in urban schools where they will have extensive decision-making power, Schnur said.
Participants receive a stipend of at least $40,000 during their year of study and residency, so they don't have to worry about surviving without a salary. Fellows receive full administrators certification at the end of the program.
New Leaders is able to provide those opportunities thanks to corporate and public support. An important boost for the program came in October, when the Boeing Company announced a partnership with New Leaders, becoming the Chicago programs leading corporate sponsor. The Chicago programs goal is to train 100 principals by 2005.
One recent graduate of the program, Patrick H. Baccellieri, an interim principal at South Loop School in Chicago, said New Leaders offered him a chance to get directly involved with school life. He had been a teacher and administrator for about 20 years prior to joining the program. I was working with Chicago public schools teachers and administrators, but outside of the system, Baccellieri told Education World. I wanted to work in urban education -- in areas of high need -- as an administrator, and to focus my attention on either one school or on a small number of schools. New Leaders gave me the opportunity to study, think about education nationally, discuss, and reflect on increasing student achievement in urban education.
Among the current principals-in-training is Daniel Kramer, a former Chicago elementary and middle school teacher and a Teach for America alumnus. Kramer is doing his residency at George Armstrong Elementary School in Chicago, under the guidance of principal Arline Hersh and Boeing CEO Condit.
Im very excited about his role, Kramer said of Condit, noting that the corporate perspective on management is one of the pluses of the program. Its a chance to work on leadership. I really want to know what he [Condit] thinks about organizational structure; you dont get that [from school administrators], and principals really need it.
Already, Condit has provided valuable advice about management style. I asked him about balancing coming in strong as a leader and letting school culture evolve, said Kramer. He said, whichever way you go, be yourself. If you are a more take-charge person, do that. If you are more collaborative, then do that. He also suggested that, when I start working, I leave time for big-picture questions. If you dont, you just continue to put out small fires.
Learning to manage peers also is an adjustment for many new principals. A lot of principals come through education, and dont have a lot of experience working with adults, Kramer continued. That presents new challenges.
Kramer also had praise for Hersh, calling her a very good mentor principal. Hersh suggested that they initially focus on areas with which Kramer had the least experience -- special education and elementary education.
Kramer spends four-and-a-half days a week at Armstrong, where he works as an administrator with Hersh and two assistant principals. His duties include reviewing special education students individual education plans, coordinating schedules for students coming from other schools, working with a primary teacher, helping put report cards online, and joining Hersh doing teacher observations.
Once a week, all the fellows meet to discuss what is going on in their school experiences.
Hersh, who heard about New Leaders from another principal, said she offered to be a mentor because of the thoroughness of the program. I think the full-year program is terrific, she told Education World. The training is at a quality level. Armstrong staff and students benefit as well. I get an extra pair of eyes and hands, and also a fresh outlook, Hersh added.
New Leaders alumni are quick to put their lessons into practice. Lisa Kenner, a member of the first group of fellows, began work July 1 as principal of Triumphant Charter School (TCS), on the southwest side of Chicago. TCSs mission is to prepare over-age middle school students who have struggled in previous schools, for success in high school, college, and beyond.
The preparation from New Leaders was outstanding, Kenner told Education World. They basically built a university around us, the first class of fellows. Our professors were national experts in course strands such as school law, instructional supervision, data-driven decision-making, and budgeting, to name a few.
The fellows quick transition from students to administrators also make the lessons more meaningful. We saw just how those arenas of knowledge came to life in our year-long residencies with outstanding mentor principals," Kenner said. "My mentor principal, Helen L. Hawkins, continues to serve as an enormous source of wisdom and inspiration. In the residency experience, theoretical concepts and educational axioms became flesh in the daily reality of guiding an urban public school.
Members of Kenner's fellows group continue to meet monthly to give one another support. Many of the fellows also remain in touch with administrators, mentors, and instructors from the New Leaders program. Kenner welcomes their ongoing advice. My mentors have had a tremendous impact on my resolve, practice, and ability to strategize, she told Education World. There are daily surprises as a principal. One of the greatest challenges is the balancing act between responding effectively to the daily events and needs of each member of our school community -- scholars, parents, teachers, neighbors, staff, and community leaders -- while ensuring that we are maintaining our long-term mission of preparing every child for success.
Current principals must realize their critical role in meeting that long-term goal by stepping in as mentors for administrators-in-training, Hersh said. We owe it to the next generation. We owe it to the children to give them the best leadership possible.