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Effective Principals to Get Their Own 'Franchise' Schools in Las Vegas Pilot

The Clark County, Nev., school district is piloting a new program that will allow successful principals to run a second school through a "franchise" model, with the hope that reproducing their successful strategies in the second school will lead to academic growth in those schools.

The "franchise school" pilot will make its debut in August, with two veteran Clark County school principals—John Haynal and Katie Decker—leading the effort.

Thumbnail image for Haynal and Decker .JPG

The program is premised on the idea that expanding the reach of successful principals will improve outcomes for more students and spread best practices across the district. (National Public Radio recently profiled a program in Tennessee that used a similar model for teachers.)

Research has shown that principals are second to teachers among the in-school factors that affect student achievement.

"Our philosophy at the school district is to bolster best practices to other campuses through expanded leadership opportunities," Mike Barton, the chief student achievement officer of the 316,000-student district, the fifth largest in the country, said in a statement announcing the program.

The  idea for the program germinated about a year ago while the district's cabinet was exploring ways to put more of its effective teachers in front of more students, Barton said in an interview.

The question of "how do we take some of our best and brightest principals who have good results and have them around more students?" was one that emerged from those discussions, he said.

"These are effective principals," Barton said of Haynal and Decker. "These are principals who have been very vocal: 'We don't want to do central office. We love what we do as principals.' "

"We saw this as an opportunity to extend their reach," he added.

Decker, a 14-year principal in the Clark County district, runs Walter Bracken STEAM Academy, a 521-student five-star school, the highest level under Nevada's school accountability rating system, and will lead the Walter V. Long Elementary School, a two-star school of 846 students.

Haynal is the principal of the 868-student Dr. Owen C. Roundy Elementary School, which he took from turnaround status and turned from a two-star to a four-star school in two years. He will supervise the Vegas Verdes Elementary School.

Both principals are award-winning educators: Between them they have racked up numerous commendations, including Haynal's recognition for outstanding leadership by the Nevada Association of School Boards.

The "flagship" principals have a simple yet challenging task: replicate the structures and practices that led to the high student achievement in their current schools and strengthen the district's leadership pipeline through knowledge sharing with the assistant principals at the "franchise" schools, who they will have the opportunity to hire and mentor, Barton said. 

Barton said he envisions that the principals will be "mirroring" what they have done at their schools, particularly deepening instructional quality, on the new campuses.

The franchise program will also be an instrumental part of rebuilding the district's leadership pipeline, which was curtailed years ago when budget cuts forced the district to dismantle its leadership office. The department has been rebuilt, but the leadership training took a hit as a result, he said.

(In January, Education Week published a special mini-report, Building Strong School Leaders, focused on the principal pipeline and steps districts across the country were taking to recruit, groom and retain strong school leaders.)

The "franchise" schools were chosen based on their proximity to the "flagship" schools and based on a need to improve academically, Barton said. The district also looked for schools where proficiency rates were falling, he said. (The principals of those schools have been reassigned.)

The district is also exploring ways to support the principals now that they will have additional responsibilities.  The initial two principals will be part of a professional learning community to share what's working and what's not working, and that the district is contemplating providing them with an administrative secretary to help with bureaucratic issues and looking at other ways to make their jobs easier.

The district will closely monitor the principals and keep track of students' growth and proficiency throughout the year, he said.

Depending on the early success of the program, the district may put out requests in October to invite additional high-performing principals to participate because, Barton said, there was "an appetite" among other principals to share their expertise and knowledge—particularly among those with no interest in becoming superintendents or making the transition to the central office. 

Photo credit:  Clark County principals John Haynal and Katie Decker will pilot the district's franchise model beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. Photo courtesy of the Clark County School District. 

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