New York

City urged superintendents to favor Leadership Academy principals

The city Department of Education has often praised the principal-training program it helped incubate, the nonprofit Leadership Academy, despite veteran educators’ grumblings. But it has never, to my knowledge, come out and flatly declared that it would rather hire principals trained at the academy’s Aspiring Principal Program than principals trained elsewhere (like, for instance, a traditional university program.)

That’s what chief schools officer Eric Nadelstern wrote in the memo below, sent out to superintendents and school support organizations in June. “[I]f we are not actively seeking to place these Leadership Academy graduates, we are ignoring an important talent pool,” Nadelstern wrote. “I expect to see the number of unplaced APPs drop rapidly over the next few weeks.”

David Cantor, the Department of Education spokesman, verified the memo and endorsed it, though he toned down the extent to which the city school system is issuing a mandate over the heads of superintendents, who have the legal authority to decide which principals to place. “Superintendents have the right to appoint who they want to principal positions,” he said in a statement. “We believe that APP graduates are highly qualified and encourage superintendents to consider them when there are openings.”

It’s not clear how effective the Leadership Academy’s program is. A recent study found few conclusive differences drew mixed conclusions between the performance of schools run by Leadership Academy principals and similar schools whose leaders were traditionally trained. As study co-author Sean Corcoran summarized in our comments section, “After a few years, APP schools were improving at a slightly faster rate than comparison schools in ELA, but in math they improved at comparable rates.” ELA refers to English Language Arts.

Veteran teachers and principals privately disdain administrators hired there as young, cocksure, and ill-prepared, and Nadelstern’s memo acknowledges that sense. “We have heard from some of you that ‘THIS school needs someone with experience,'” he wrote.

Tthe study painted a more complicated picture. APP-trained principals are younger on average, by about three years (41 compared to 44); they have less classroom experience; and they are less likely to have served as an assistant principal before entering the academy. However, they are also more likely to be black, and they have an average of more than seven years of teaching experience when they enter the academy, just a few years less than traditionally trained principals.

A spokeswoman for the city principals union, Chiara Colleti, said in a statement that skilled principals come from many backgrounds. “We trust that Superintendents take a wide spectrum of criteria into consideration when they hire principals and wouldn’t succumb to pressure to hire candidates from one particular background,” she said.

Here’s Nadelstern’s memo:

From: Nadelstern Eric
Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:40 PM
To: &SSO Leaders; Composto Philip; Conyers Donald; Cortazzo Luz; Costantino Karina; D’Auria Richard (District 21); Druck Lillian ; Esposito Dolores; Ferrara Marianne; Hurdle Taylor Rhonda; Kay Diane; Lloyd-Bey Michele; Machen James; Madera Martha; Menendez Sonia; Murray Lenon; Phillips Daniella; Powis Catherine M; Quail James; Reed Jeannette; Reeves Gale; Rigney Daria; Rodriguez Myrna; Rokeach Dov; Salavert Roser; Santiago Evelyn; Saunders Anita; Schultz Margaret; Stuart Rosemary; Torres Yolanda; Weinstein Martin; White Elizabeth; Wilkins Beverly; Cumberbatch Ainslie; Dibartolomeo Joel ; DiMola Isabel (02M580); Gorman Elaine; Laboy Bonnie ; Papaliberios Elena; Pena Francesca (; Penzell Alexis; Unger Doris; Waite Linda
Cc: McIntosh Amy
Subject: Message regarding Leadership Academy graduates

Dear SSO Leaders and Superintendents,

We have 38 of this year’s Leadership Academy graduates who have not yet been hired for school leadership positions. As you know, the Chancellor has asked that we give them priority consideration when appointing principals or naming IAs.

Leadership Academy graduates bring many skills to the table. They have spent the past year in an intensive residency program, (some in your own network or district), shadowing some of our most successful principals, and these mentor principals speak highly of their leadership skills. The residency model has given them valuable hands-on experiences on what it takes to lead a high-needs school in NYC, and they are deeply familiar with our newest accountability tools and with the inquiry process that has so much potential to improve student learning through adult collaboration.

We have heard from some of you that “THIS school needs someone with experience.” Please keep in mind that many of the APPers have experience as assistant principals and all have demonstrated the kinds of personal leadership skills and track record of improving student learning that we need in our schools.

The data show that past APPs as a group have an admirable track record. The most relevant measure of success for Leadership Academy principals is to look at how their schools’ Progress Report grades have changed over time. Comparing principals three or four years into the job, seventy-eight percent of the Leadership Academy-trained principals improved or maintained their school’s Progress Report grade from 2006-07 to 2007-08 compared to 74% for new principals from other pathways with similar tenure. We also know that Leadership Academy principals take on tougher challenges and nevertheless are making greater gains.

If you are reviewing applicants to a C30, please be sure to include some APPs in the Level 1 if any apply. If you are making an IA assignment, APPs should be prioritized unless a school with strong performance has a succession candidate from the school who is already in the principal candidate pool. (No more candidates will be “rushed” this hiring season). If you would like more information about APPs who could be good fits for openings, please contact Carl Giaimo at [email protected] or 718-935-5376. SSO Leaders, please forward this information on to your network leaders as well.

It is our job to find an excellent principal for every school, but if we are not actively seeking to place these Leadership Academy graduates, we are ignoring an important talent pool. I expect to see the number of unplaced APPs drop rapidly over the next few weeks.

Eric Nadelstern

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.