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Teach for America Looks to Grow Rural School Leaders

The national nonprofit Teach For America is launching a new initiative to help its teachers transition into roles as principals in rural areas.

The goal of the new Rural School Leaders Academy is to develop teachers in rural areas and put them on the path to school leadership. Only 17 percent of rural school districts have school leadership training programs, compared to 51.6 percent of city districts, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report.

"The program is designed to get more rural educators on the path to principalship but it is not a direct route to certification and employment," said Becky O'Neill, managing director of regional communications for TFA. "Our belief is that increasing the professional development pathways available to rural teachers marks an important early step that will ultimately drive participation in principal certification programs for rural leaders."

Teach for America recruits ambitious college graduates of all majors, gives them an abbreviated period of training, and places them in high-need schools for two years. An estimated 1,350 corps members work in rural schools.

TFA has been criticized for its short training period for new teachers and for requiring only a two-year teaching commitment from those recruits. But TFA officials have argued that its alumni often take other leadership roles in education, both in administration and in public policy and advocacy, and this new program seems squarely part of that vision.

The curriculum for the Rural School Leaders Academy will focus on the unique challenges of rural education and cover six core competencies, such as setting and realizing a vision, and managing operations and systems. The year-long program will include in-person retreats, coaching and mentoring from Teach for America staff members, and quarterly conference calls with distinguished educators from across the country.

The academy is open only to TFA teachers or alumni, and its first class will have 15 participants. Academy members will be encouraged to stay in their current positions while seeking formal and informal leadership roles in their schools. The program will launch in July.

The program's funding comes from the Kern Family Foundation.

TFA plans to evaluate the program based on how many educators stay in rural areas, enroll in principal pipeline programs, and ultimately become assistant principals or principals.

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