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Universities and Districts Team Up to Better Prepare Principals

A four-part video series shares early lessons from seven district-university partnerships that are rethinking principal preparation.
September 24, 2019 3 Min Read
A male white teacher in a suit helping 2 white elementary school students with a class project using toothpicks and white balls

​Research confirms that principals influence student learning—but many district and university leaders agree that most university-based leadership programs aren’t preparing principals for the challenges of today’s schools. In fact, Michelle Young, executive director at the University Council for Educational Administration says there are about 700 university preparation programs right now, and “there is a significant amount of variability in the quality.”

There are exceptions, however, including the universities and school districts profiled in a four-part video series, which you can see below. The videos explore why and how universities and local school districts are working together to better prepare principals for the rigors of the job, illustrating the early steps in a complex process that requires fundamental change.

“Principals have always played a significant role in their schools, but now the complexities of the job have increased,” says Beverly Hutton, deputy executive director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals in the introductory video. “Now principals are not only responsible for developing a vision and nurturing a school culture. Now we’re instructional leaders. That means now we’re driving student achievement. We’re tracking teacher performance.  We’re looking at the culture as a whole, all while thinking about what is best for students.”  

The videos are based on lessons from Launching a Redesign of University Principal Preparation Programs: Partners Collaborate for Change, a 2018 report from the RAND Corporation on the first year of a Wallace initiative to support seven sites across the nation as they rethink principal preparation. The universities had established a firm foundation of partnerships, shared a common vision, and had developed structures, tools and processes to make progress. With that groundwork, they were able to begin the process of redesigning their curriculum and field experiences. The findings suggest the feasibility of a complex redesign process, through comprehensive interdependent partnerships, the study concludes.

In each location in the University Principal Preparation Initiative, four institutions are involved: a university principal training program; at least three school districts that hire its graduates; a “mentor” principal training program considered exemplary for practices the university plans to redesign; and the state office responsible for matters such as program accreditation.

At each site, the redesign work includes:

  • Using leader standards to align features of the program and expectations for graduate performance
  • Conducting evidence-based “self-assessments” to identify strengths and growth areas
  • Using “logic models” to support team building and to guide change
  • Grounding curriculum and instruction in real-world experience in schools
  • Ramping up clinical instruction and recruitment and selection of principal candidates
  • Exploring systems to track graduate performance and to fill vacancies for principals

See the whole series below, or go directly to the individual episodes:

  1. An introductory video, The Case for Change, that explains why universities and school districts are coming together to prepare principals  and the research on effective programs.  
  2. A profile of North Carolina State University in Raleigh and its work with local school districts, with a focus on its partnership with the Wake County Public School System. It explains how the university and its partners came together to jointly agree on what school leaders should know and be able to do, what changes were made to the university curriculum, and how the partners jointly select candidates for the principal preparation program
  3. A profile of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and its work with four large countywide school districts in South Florida. This video shows how FAU and its partners consulted the Richie Program for School Leaders at the University of Denver as they rewrote curriculum and explains how they used the Quality Measures self-study toolkit to guide the redesign process. Their goal was to prepare school leaders who can lead change.  
  4. The final video, Profile of a Mentor: The Ritchie Program for School Leaders, explains how the Ritchie program at the University of Denver served as a “mentor program” to universities and school districts and explains Ritchie’s longstanding partnership to prepare principals with the Denver Public Schools.  

The videos were produced by award-winning filmmaker Tod Lending.

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