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June 1, 2006
Vol. 63
No. 9

No Instant Principals: A Reply to Barbara Bartholomew

NYC Leadership Academy doesn't spit out principals—it prepares, places, and supports them.<LINK URL="http://www.ascd.org/portal/site/ascd/template.MAXIMIZE/menuitem.459dee008f99653fb85516f762108a0c/?javax.portlet.tpst=d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_ws_MX&amp;javax.portlet.prp_d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_journaltypeheaderimage=%2FASCD%2Fimages%2Fmultifiles%2Fpublications%2Felmast.gif&amp;javax.portlet.prp_d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_viewID=article_view&amp;javax.portlet.prp_d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_journalmoid=90775cb15ebfa010VgnVCM1000003d01a8c0RCRD&amp;javax.portlet.prp_d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_articlemoid=0e3808b4aebfa010VgnVCM1000003d01a8c0RCRD&amp;javax.portlet.prp_d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_journalTypePersonalization=ASCD_EL&amp;javax.portlet.begCacheTok=token&amp;javax.portlet.endCacheTok=token">Read Barbara Bartholomew's article.</LINK>

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In "Transforming New York City's Public Schools" (Educational Leadership, May 2006), Barbara Bartholomew raises an important question: When education reformers challenge the status quo, "What [do] they put in its place?" (p. 61). Unfortunately, Bartholomew's claims regarding recent education reforms in New York City are outdated, inaccurate, and impossible to confirm or dispute because she fails to document her sources. As the CEO of the NYC Leadership Academy, which came under attack in this article, I believe it is important to explain how we are actually preparing and supporting aspiring and novice principals and identify some of the real challenges that we face in this work.

Our Real Work

In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein launched the Leadership Academy as part of Children First, New York City's comprehensive school reform program. Like most urban areas, the New York City school system faces a potential labor market crisis, with a majority of principals nearing or at retirement age and an insufficient pool of candidates prepared to fill the vacancies. The Leadership Academy's efforts focus on preparing aspiring principals and supporting first-year principals.
Our Aspiring Principals Program puts educators with at least three years of teaching experience on a rigorous fast track to school leadership. We measure the performance of all candidates against clearly articulated standards adapted from the work of Doug Reeves (2004). Through simulations of leadership practice and year-long school-based residencies under the guidance of experienced mentor principals, our program faculty evaluates the candidates' capacity to lead a school.
Not every entering candidate is advanced through the program; our graduation rate for our first two classes has been 86 percent and 77 percent respectively. That graduation rate is below 100 percent by design. Unlike pass-through programs in which everyone who enters graduates, our participants know that we are serious about preparing leaders on such an accelerated timeline. In some instances, candidates withdraw on their own after realizing that they do not truly aspire to become principals or cannot do so on an accelerated timeline. In other cases, we counsel candidates to consider alternative professional options, including a less accelerated training or additional years of teaching to hone their craft.
Our program faculty are former principals whom we train in simulation design, coaching, and our unique approach to facilitating adult learning. We focus on developing participants' expertise in instructional leadership, learning theory, systems theory, and organizational change. Because we believe that adults learn most effectively when motivated by the discomfort of the unknown in practical, applied contexts, we embed our participants' learning in a process of job-relevant experiences that are real-time and mirror the actual work of the principalship.
The Aspiring Principals Program is the most successful program of its kind at placing its graduates in schools. Seventy-eight percent of our graduates have been placed as school principals (114 of 147 graduates) within one year of program completion. This rate is substantially higher than that of similar principal preparation programs in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Our graduates serve in schools with lower average student performance and higher average poverty levels than other first-year New York City principals, and our earliest test results show promising trends in improving student performance. As part of our continual process of learning and self-improvement, the Leadership Academy recently engaged Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. to conduct a three-year longitudinal evaluation of our efforts.
In addition, the Leadership Academy supports first-year principals. For this part of our work, we rely on recently retired principals and principal supervisors (local instructional superintendents), who provide one-on-one coaching and leadership development sessions to all first-year principals. These programs use the Balanced Coaching approach developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz (Bloom, Castagna, Moir, &amp; Warren, 2005). Our coaches help novice principals get their sea legs while managing an instructional improvement agenda. Day-long leadership development sessions engage principals in honing their early leadership skills. Principals learn how to use data to drive instruction, build a high-functioning team, develop sound instructional practice, delegate work, manage conflict and resistance, engage in difficult conversations, supervise staff, and manage their time.

Our Real Challenges

We believe that it is crucial to investigate whether the Children First school reforms are working in New York. But in her haste to judge the Leadership Academy, Bartholomew failed to dig any deeper than a few negative media reports from a couple of years ago. If she had, she would have found a promising program, which is already becoming a national model for training school leaders.
That is not to say that our programs are perfect. Because we want principals to hit the ground running rather than learn everything on the job, we have struggled to identify the ever-changing nature of the skills and knowledge that principals need; to map backwards from that set of skills and knowledge to a set of assignments that measure participants' progress toward mastery of standards; and to craft a curricular scope and sequence that scaffolds participants' learning (Wiggins &amp; McTighe, 1998). As the work of the principal changes, we aim to keep our faculty up-to-date so that we are not coaching toward behaviors that may have worked last year but no longer work today. Similarly, we revisit our performance standards every year to ensure that they reflect current realities. Finally, we make enormous efforts to work with the system leadership and align our programs with the priorities of the New York City Department of Education, our sole client.
Some of our graduates have faced initial resistance from their school communities. In most cases, this is because they represent reform. Many of our graduates have turned this resistance into highly productive working relationships with school staff and communities. We use our resources to help Leadership Academy participants develop the necessary resilience to meet these and other leadership challenges so that they can effectively serve in some of the City's hardest-to-staff schools. But one challenge that we have clearly not overcome, which Bartholomew's article illustrates, is how to manage the continual barrage of misinformation about who we are and what we do.

Bartholomew, B. (2006). Transforming New York City's public schools. Educational Leadership, 63(8), 61–65.

Bloom, G., Castagna, C., Moir, E., &amp; Warren, B. (2005). Blended coaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Reeves, D. B. (2004). Assessing educational leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press &amp; NASSP.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement. (2004). Innovations in education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Available: www.ed.gov/admins/recruit/prep/alternative/edlite-figure1.html

Wiggins, G., &amp; McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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