First Person

Cultivating The Next Generation Of School Leaders

One of the Bloomberg administration’s first big education policy moves was to create a fast-track principal training program that in its early years recruited heavily from outside the school system. Now, in the administration’s final year, that program — which drew fierce criticism and produced mixed results — is smaller and the Department of Education is investing in programs to develop potential principals from within the city’s teaching corps. Here, the department’s chief academic officer explains why the department is looking inside itself for future school leaders.

On a Wednesday afternoon late last month, Serapha Cruz, the principal of the Bronx School of Young Leaders, was in her building on Tremont Avenue, meeting with teacher teams and preparing for the following day.

And yet, in a way, she was also at West Prep Academy, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; Bronx Park Middle School, in Bronxwood; and the Urban Assembly School of Civic Engagement, in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. The leaders of these three other schools all served as staff members or principals-in-training under Cruz — a dynamic principal who has worked relentlessly with her team to turn around her school — before becoming principals themselves.

Throughout New York City’s public schools, many more prospective principals are in the leadership pipeline. They come from Cruz’s school — she has an aspiring principal interning this year with her, and I met two of Cruz’s current teachers that Wednesday afternoon at the kick-off event for the inaugural cohort of the Teacher Leadership Program — and from schools across the city.

In recognition of the critical role the school leader plays in determining a school’s success, the department has long offered potential school leaders several options for principal preparation programs, which typically provide intensive support in the year immediately before an apprentice becomes a principal. More recently, in order to increase the supply of high-quality candidates for the roughly 150 principal positions we must fill each year, the department has launched several initiatives aimed at developing the leadership capacity of our most effective teachers. By engaging strong educators early in their careers, we can cultivate their leadership skills as they take their first steps toward school leadership.

Take TLP as an example. The program is targeted at teachers already serving in leadership roles — such as department chair — and convening them regularly through a series of workshops led by strong principals and other leaders. Between sessions, back in their schools, teacher leaders will practice observing classrooms and providing feedback to improve their colleagues’ practice. They will evaluate instructional materials for alignment to the Common Core standards. And they will lead teams of fellow teachers to examine their students’ work, guiding discussions about how to adjust teaching in response to student needs.

The fact that the 250 teachers in TLP this year represent just a quarter of our nearly 1,000 applicants is a testament to our teachers’ widespread interest in developing these leadership skills.

We know that many TLP participants may decide to continue in their teacher leadership roles, now strengthened by the skills they have gained in the program, for years to come. But our hope is that some successful graduates will go on to become the next generation of excellent New York City school leaders by moving on to one of our key principal preparation programs next year or in the future. This year, with support from the Wallace Foundation, our expanding group of partner programs includes not just the Leadership Academy, LEAP (the Leaders in Education Apprenticeship Program), and New Leaders’ Aspiring Principal Program, but also three university-based education leadership programs — Bank Street Principals Institute, Teachers College Summer Principals Academy, and CUNY’s Baruch College — whose leaders have committed to grounding their work in partnerships with our schools. Across all of these partner programs, this year nearly 150 assistant principals and teacher leaders are in training to become New York City principals.

Our work to develop a strong leadership pipeline dates to 2003, when the NYC Leadership Academy launched and began to lay the foundation to address the city’s longstanding need to better recruit, prepare, and support principals. The Leadership Academy created that foundation, particularly for the system’s highest-need schools; today, nearly one in six principals in the city is a graduate of the academy’s Aspiring Principals Program, which now serves as a national model for school leader preparation and has been replicated in a number of other districts. It also continues to serve as a critical partner in our leadership work providing training to teacher leaders, aspiring principals and sitting principals across the system.

While principals are never eager to see some of their strongest educators leave their school, they understand that these leadership development programs can be mutually beneficial and ultimately serve the greater good. Principal Cruz says that her current staff members have been inspired by the development of their former colleagues, and many educators are now discussing possible leadership roles during their regular goal-setting conversations. Plus, Cruz is in touch often with Dillon Prime, the new principal at Bronx Park, and Roberto Padilla, the principal at West Prep. For the Nov. 6 professional development day, the three principals shared resources on providing quality feedback to students and collecting assessment data.

“I believe in developing people to work in other places, and it ends up making all of our jobs easier if we’re putting quality people in these positions,” Cruz told me. “Dillon and Roberto are getting fresh ideas from other people and other places and bringing them back to our conversations, so their development benefits me, too.”

First Person

I mentor students demoralized about not having a vote. Here’s their plan for getting civically involved before turning 18

Students in the Minds Matter program.

Every Monday night during the school year, I spend time with two wonderful young women. They’re high-achieving high school sophomores from low-income families whose success would be certain if they grew up in a more affluent ZIP code.

Along with a team of other mentors, I help the students improve their writing and communication skills to help them prepare for a successful college career. That’s what I’m prepared to do.

I was less prepared for what they brought to our meeting last week, the first time we met under the tenure of a new president. They talked about feeling the consequences of the national political shift, though at 15, they knew it would be years before they could cast a ballot of their own. “We feel left out of a system that affects us too,” they said.

So our task that night became to expand our ideas about what participation in the American political system really means.

Here are five ideas we came up with, designed to help high schoolers do just that.

1. Meet elected officials. Meeting state senators and representatives during their campaigns is often the easiest way to make contact. Attend a coffee event, a party meeting, or a fundraiser where students can introduce themselves and talk about their concerns. Encourage them to be more than just another face in the crowd.

There are plenty of young, local elected officials to learn from. Dominick Moreno, a prominent Senate Democrat on the state of Colorado’s powerful Joint Budget Committee, got his start running for class president as a high school sophomore. Still only 32, he has already served in the House of Representatives and as mayor pro tem of a Denver suburb.

2. Volunteer on a campaign. This is the best opportunity for students to get an inside look at the political process and can help them establish lasting relationships with real people working in politics.

Some legislators face tough races and are out knocking on doors for months. Others spend their time differently, and in either case, candidates need help reaching out to voters, managing social media accounts, answering emails or organizing events. Plus, this work looks great on student résumés.

I tell students about my own experience. It started small: When I was 10, I passed out stickers for local elected officials at holiday parades. When I was 16, I got the chance to intern at the South Dakota state capitol. At 21, I got my first job in Washington, and at 23 I started lobbying in Colorado, affecting policy that now touches all citizens of the state.

3. Think locally. There are so many small things that students can do that will help their community become a better place on their own timeline. Help students organize a neighborhood clean-up day or tutor at an elementary school. These might feel inadequate to students when they look at the big picture, but it’s important to remind them that these actions help weave a fabric of compassion — and helps them become local leaders in the community.

4. Pre-register to vote. Voting matters, too. It sounds simple, but pre-registering addresses a root cause of low voter turnout — missing deadlines. In Colorado, one must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 16 years old, and reside in the state 22 days prior to the date of the election.

5. Affiliate with a party.
This assures full involvement in the process. Before turning 18, students can still attend party meetings or even start a “Young Democrats/Republicans” group at school. If they don’t feel like they fit with either the Republican or the Democratic parties, that’s OK — unaffiliated voters can now take part in the primary elections and help name either Republican or Democratic leaders.

Talking through these ideas helped the students I work with realize voting isn’t the only way to make a difference. One of my students has started a group that helps other young women know about birth control options, after seeing girls in her high school struggle and drop out after getting pregnant. Other students in the group have asked to learn more about the legislative process and want to testify on legislation.

They’re proving that democracy doesn’t begin and end with casting a ballot — but it does depend on taking interest and taking action.

Zoey DeWolf is a lobbyist with Colorado Legislative Services, based in Denver. She also works with Minds Matter of Denver, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help prepare accomplished high school students from low-income families for successful college careers.

First Person

It’s time to retire the myth that any counselor can do the job alone — even at a tiny school

A few of the author's students who graduated last year.

I waited five years to get my dream job as a counselor in a New York City public school. After all of that waiting, I was full of ideas about how I would be able to use my experience to help students navigate what can be an overwhelming few years.

I wanted to make our school counseling more individualized and full of innovative support mechanisms. I wanted our guidance department to be a place that anyone could leave with a grand plan.

A few months into that first year, in fall 2015, it was clear that my vision would be, to put it bluntly, impossible to achieve.

When I received my position at a Harlem high school in District 5, I was assigned to not only take on the responsibilities of a school counselor, but also to act as the college advisor, assign (and then frequently re-shuffle) class schedules for every student, and several other tasks. My school had just under 200 students — enrollment low enough that it was assumed this could all be managed.

This proved to be a very inaccurate assumption. I was working with a group of students with low attendance rates, and many were English language learners or students with disabilities. Many students were overage and under-credited, others were in foster care or homeless, some had returned from incarceration, and a couple were teen parents or pregnant.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum school counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. I know from experience that extremely high student need makes that ratio meaningless. Almost all of these students needed help in order to be ready to learn. Their needs tripled the feel of our enrollment.

This frequent mismatch between need and numbers puts school counselors like me in the position to do a great disservice to so many students. As the only counselor available, a seemingly small mishap with a task as crucial as graduation certification or credit monitoring could have spelled disaster for a student. I know some seniors missed certain financial aid opportunities and application deadlines, and some ninth, 10th, and 11th graders could have used more academic intervention to help them transition to the next grade level successfully.

My success at keeping our promotion and college admissions rates on the upswing was largely due to my outreach and partnership with community-based organizations that helped support several of our students. Had it not been for their assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved anything near what I did.

I’m still a counselor at my small school, and some aspects of the job have gotten easier with time. I love my job, which I think of as the most rewarding yet intense position in the building. But I still believe that there is almost no case in which only one counselor should be available for students.

Principals and school leaders directly involved with the budget must make sure to effectively analyze the needs of their student population, and advocate for an appropriately sized counseling staff. Small schools face real funding constraints. But ones serving students like mine need more than they’ve gotten.

Students’ social and emotional development and their academic success go hand in hand. Let’s not make the mistake of conflating enrollment numbers with need.

Danisha Baughan is a high school counselor and college advisor. She received her masters in school counseling in May 2010 and has held elementary, middle, and high school counseling positions since then.