Schools Look Within Walls To Find Future Leaders
Schools in Indiana – and across the country – are changing rapidly.
Along with new sets of standards, testing programs and systems for tracking accountability, districts regularly deal with an evolving workforce. Thanks to technology and other constraints, some school jobs don’t look like they used to, and others have a shorter lifespan due to the pressures of working in what’s become a somewhat stressful environment.
Additionally, as baby boomers retire they’re creating a gap in the workforce – and the education field is no exception. Principals, assistant principals and superintendents are leaving their positions, but instead of waiting for those positions to open up and going through the routine hiring process, some school districts are trying to get a head start by training teachers from the bottom up.
The Teacher Becomes The Student
It’s week one of the summer session on the Bloomington campus at Indiana University.
In a classroom on the third floor of the Wright education building, instructor Chad Lochmiller spreads materials out on two large tables. Students begin to trickle in, in groups of two or three. They take their seats, get out their pens. The instructor turns on his PowerPoint, clears his throat and starts his class on their introductions.
“Why don’t we just do name, and which school you’re at? We’ll start over here,” Lochmiller says, and motions to a woman on his right.
“Kendra Smith, AIS Diamond.”
“Anna Kirkman, AIS Diamond.”
“Jessica Hopkins, I’m at Cedar Hall.”
As you can tell, there’s something different about this group of students: they’re adults. They also already have jobs: they’re all employed in the same southern Indiana school district, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.
They’ve come to earn their principal certification. Evansville is partnering with the IU School of Education to help prepare these 25 teachers for future leadership positions within the district.
IU faculty will teach courses on-site in Evansville and using the university’s online learning management system. On top of that, each participant will have a field-based internship to help them address the unique challenges facing their school corporation.
The partnership with IU is a significant investment in Evansville’s growth. The school corporation is sponsoring each of the participants with a $500 scholarship to complete the program, along with another $500 from IU.
The Indiana Department of Education requires the following in order to obtain the appropriate license to become a building level administrator:
- Hold a practitioner license
- Pass an approved content licensure exam
- Complete an approved program in Building Level Administration
- Earn a Master’s degree or higher from an accredited institution
- Compete required health-related training
Along with IU faculty, EVSC administrators selected 25 participants from a pool of 65 applicants. All but five have already completed their Master’s degree; they will also pursue that distinction along with their certification through the program.
Lochmiller says the benefit of doing a district-specific program is that it is tailor-made for Evansville, giving future principals or superintendents the opportunity to target their training specifically to district initiatives and improvement efforts.
“If you can have a principal who’s well-trained in being able to go in and identify problems up front, implement strategies quickly and then sustain those strategies over a period of time, monitoring their impact with data, it really allows you to make meaningful changes in the school district,” Lochmiller says. “Strong leadership is key to successful school turnaround.”
Turnaround is a big word in Evansville. State officials have praised the school corporation for its successes implementing strategies for five schools that had consistently received failing accountability grades.
Identifying leadership that can help continue this progress is a priority for the district.
There’s a lot of research pointing to school leadership as second only to classroom instruction in terms of what impacts student achievement, so finding great leaders is a priority.
Finding great leaders who already know and understand the district’s vision is icing on the cake. That’s the benefit of the administrator training program, according to Susan McDowell Riley. She’s the Director for School Talent Development for EVSC, a position that was created as part of the district’s turnaround efforts.
“We think it’s important to get people that are really invested in our community and in our school district,” Riley says. “By finding people who are currently teaching here, we know that they have the history and the background, and they understand our community. We think growing them as leaders is really advantageous for our community and for our students.”
Other like-minded districts around the country are also tapping into their existing crop of teachers to fill management positions. The U.S. Department of Education added fuel to the concept last year, when it announced the Teach-to-Lead Initiative, a program specifically aimed at training and guiding teachers to take on leadership roles.
Schools can participate by sharing ideas through online communities. Those who submit the best ideas are selected to attend regional Teacher Leadership Summits.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Kendra Smith is a social studies teacher at Evansville’s Academy for Innovative Studies, and even though she’s only been there for three years, she gets the district’s mission – the alternative high school she works in serves students who are expelled for major behavioral issues.
Smith says she feels like she’s been exposed to important aspects of the job, but there are still many things she doesn’t know.
—Kendra Smith, Evansville Academy for Innovative Studies, Diamond campus
This is no small task. School principals wear a number of hats: they’re instructional leaders, disciplinarians, budget analysts, PR experts and facility managers.
On top of all that, becoming a leader in Indiana’s current educational environment can be especially challenging. Administrators take on a lot of the pressure in getting schools up to speed on new academic standards, tests and accountability processes.
That’s why training is so crucial.
“They have to have those skills the moment that they walk into the principal’s office,” Lochmiller says. “If they don’t have them, then they can find that first year to be very difficult. And that’s actually where we see a lot of principals kind of leaving the principalship is within the first three years, because they burn out, they become overwhelmed, they don’t know how to navigate the system.”
IU has operated a similar partnership with the Monroe County Community School Corporation in the past, and Lochmiller says they would be open to forming more in the future.
Smith says, like many of her classmates, she is thrilled to be able to take classes and further her knowledge alongside colleagues from her corporation. She says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love my corporation, that’s where I want to stay,” Smith says. “The fact that they’re going to be able to cater a lot of our discussions around current policies in Evansville, I think that’s fantastic.”
The Evansville teachers will complete the courses required for their certification by the end of next summer.
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