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Districts Progress in First Year of Principal Initiative, Report Says

Six large school districts receiving tens of millions of philanthropic dollars to deepen their benches of principals became more discerning consumers of the school leadership programs they rely on to train prospective principals during their first year of participation in the initiative.

That conclusion comes from a first-year appraisal of the "Principal Pipeline Initiative," a $75 million investment by the New York City-based Wallace Foundation in six urban/suburban districts across the country. The six districts are: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Denver; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; New York City; and Prince George's County, Md. As part of the initiative, Wallace commissioned two outside research organizations—Policy Studies Associates, Inc., and the Rand Corp.—to conduct five different evaluations.

In this first-year evaluation of the program, the reviewers found that all six districts had made progress on exercising more control and consumer power over aspiring principals and the training they get. All had identified specific standards and competencies (tailored to their district) that aspiring leaders need. All continued, or began, collaborating with selected universities. And, in most cases, districts created or expanded their in-house leadership programs.

In exchange for the Wallace investment, the six districts agreed to work on comprehensive methods to identify, train, evaluate, and support principals. (The Wallace Foundation also supports coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning in Education Week.)

Overall, reviewers found that the districts were actively working on all areas of the pipeline in their first year.

All of them, to varying degrees, have begun refining their hiring practices to align with new and revised leadership skill sets that they have identified and to be more uniform. In Prince George's County, for example, the district now requires principal candidates to go through a uniform set of activities that they are judged on, and principal selection relies far less on personal recommendations. In Hillsborough County, questions for prospective principals in job interviews were scripted and all candidates are now asked the same questions and scored on the same rubric for their answers. All six districts now put candidates through real or simulated school environments and observe how they handle various scenarios.

All the districts also had efforts underway to revamp and strengthen principal evaluations and were in varying stages of beefing up supports for their rookie principals through professional development and coaching.

That the districts overall seemed to make progress in their first year of the pipeline initiative shouldn't be much of a surprise. After all, they were selected for investment by Wallace, in part, because they were already devoting time, attention, and money to principal preparation. But as the districts get deeper into this and the evaluations become more detailed, it will be interesting to see how the pipeline work chugs ahead, especially in Prince George's County, which is in the midst of a huge governance change, and in New York City, where the 12-year run of mayoral control over the school system may start to look different when a new city leader is elected to replace outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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