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 cgiaimo@schools.nyc.gov 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