school leadership

Principals matter — and Tennessee wants to do a better job of equipping them

The job of a principal has changed a lot over the last decade.

Instead of just hiring teachers, managing the building, and stepping in for the toughest discipline issues, today’s principals also serve as catalysts for the quality of classroom instruction. They not only hire teachers but they observe, evaluate and coach them.

That’s why Tennessee is launching a new initiative to get teachers with untapped leadership potential to the principal’s office, as well as support and develop principals who are already there.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re changing our preparation to meet those demands,” said Education Commissioner McQueen. “We want to have strong principals in every school to provide leadership that will create transformative learning experiences for all students.”

McQueen identified leadership development among her top priorities when she began leading the State Department of Education in 2015. Recognizing that principals play a big role in teacher effectiveness — and therefore student outcomes — she started the Tennessee Transformational Leadership Alliance, a group of researchers, administrators and educators committed to improving school leadership across the state.

The new Principal Pipeline Partnership is an outgrowth of that alliance. Using newly available federal funding, it will underwrite partnerships among local districts, universities and nonprofit organizations to develop new training programs, and to improve existing ones.

Applications for partnerships are due May 15. Programs can each receive up to $125,000 in funding over four years, and will begin as soon as July.

State leaders aren’t sure how many grants they’ll award, but hope to have programs across Tennessee, especially serving rural areas.

The money will come under the federal rewrite of No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act. Before, Title II money could only be used to train teachers in four academic core subjects. Now, it can be used to support principals, too.

McQueen said the state is committed to seeing the partnerships bloom, even if President Donald Trump’s administration goes through with its proposal to cut Title II altogether.

“We are still very hopeful that we have Title II funds, but even if we don’t, we will create pathways for this work,” she said.

Partnerships will include principal residencies, in which candidates train under experienced school leaders, as well as ways to support principals once they’ve graduated from programs.

About 45 percent of Tennessee principals are in their first four years on the job, making it especially important that development continues once a principal is hired, said Paul Fleming, the state’s assistant commissioner of teaching and learning.

“We know it’s really critical to provide support for beginning principals,” Fleming said. “I don’t know if there’s a school out there who’s effective without an effective principal.”

At least partnership model spearheaded by local districts already exists, and it’s been an inspiration to the State Department of Education. Since 2010, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has worked with surrounding school systems to train principals through an intensive 15-month Leadership Academy, in which fellows spend four days a week in a school with a mentor principal, and one day in classes at the university.

Jim McIntyre understands the program’s importance from multiple perspectives. He served as superintendent of Knox County Schools from 2008 to 2016, and now oversees the Leadership Academy as the director of UT’s Center for Educational Leadership.

“I thought it was just wonderful and remarkable to know that there was a new cadre of educators every year who came through a very intensive experience that prepared them well for the rigors of leadership,” he said.

reasons vs. excuses

Westminster schools loses on appeal seeking higher performance rating

A student at Westminster’s Hodgkins Elementary in 2013.

The state’s quality rating for Westminster Public Schools will not change after an appeal to the Colorado Board of Education Monday.

The board unanimously voted to deny the appeal after minimal discussion mostly criticizing the district for blaming poor performance on minority and disadvantaged students.

“The ‘why’ students are not performing at grade level is an excuse, but what it should do is give us a roadmap to remedy that failure,” said board member Steve Durham. “It’s our job to identify poor performance and further find remedies regardless of the reasons.”

Pam Swanson, Westminster’s superintendent and school board members said the state board members’ comments were ridiculous.

“We have very high expectations,” Swanson said. “Every teacher listening to that comment was disgusted because we know that we have high expectations. We know all of our kids can get there it just takes them longer.”

The district has argued that their annual performance evaluation was not legal because it discriminated against the district’s population of large numbers of English learners, mobile students and those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

They also contend the state isn’t making allowances to account for Westminster’s so-called “competency-based” learning model, which does away with grade levels and moves students instead based on when they’ve learned certain education standards. The district believes that by placing students into traditional grade levels based on their age for testing means they aren’t measuring what students are learning.

State education department officials disputed the district’s appeal stating in part that the district has the flexibility to determine student grade levels for testing purposes.

The decision means Westminster now must go through with an accountability hearing where the state board will be required to vote on action to turnaround the district. Proposed plans for that hearing on May 4 have already been prepared.

The meeting was packed by Westminster employees. A crowd of educators from the Westminster district were watching the meeting from outside the boardroom.

Looking for options

State board raised questions over plan for Pueblo schools and management partners

Charlotte Macaluso, right, speaks with Pueblo City Schools spokesman Dalton Sprouse on July 22, 2016. (Pueblo Chieftain file photo)

The Colorado Board of Education on Monday asked Pueblo City Schools and state officials to submit slightly different plans for three struggling schools by mid-June.

While the district already planned to partner with two outside companies to improve student performance at the three schools, the board directed state officials to give the outside companies more of a management role in the next version of the plan.

While the board approved improvement plans for several other schools and districts this month, its request for changes to the plan for Pueblo schools was unusual. It also means that in June the board will have two plans to choose from for a final order.

Board members on Monday asked district officials about the work the district has done in the past few years trying to improve performance with an innovation zone — or a group of schools granted similar waivers from some laws and policies — about leadership changes in the schools and at the district level and about whether there have been any successful “bright spots” in recent years.

Board members also questioned district officials on the role of the external companies, Achievement Network and Relay Graduate School of Education.

Charlotte Macaluso, Pueblo City Schools superintendent said the management companies would not govern the schools.

“They would serve as a partner to identify needs,” Macaluso said.

But board members weren’t sold on a partnership of equals, and directed state officials to create a governance plan outlining how the companies would work with the schools. They also expressed frustration at the lack of a formal vetting process for the companies that would work with the schools. The same issue came up at hearings for Greeley schools earlier in the day.

The three schools include Heroes Academy, a K-8, Risley International, a middle school, and Bessemer Elementary, where barely 9 percent of third-graders passed the state’s English test last spring.

The initial state and district proposals call for the three schools to work with two external companies. For Heroes and Risley, the recommendations also suggest allowing the schools to waive some district and state rules.

Risley got innovation status in 2012, giving it such flexibility. So far, the status has not improved the school’s performance. For Heroes the autonomies would be new.

A year ago, Pueblo City Schools was expected to pose the biggest test of the state’s school accountability system. A dozen of the city’s schools were on the state’s watch list for chronic poor performance on state standardized tests. However, most of the city’s schools came off that list last year.