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Wallace Video Series Shows How Universities, School Districts Team Up With Goal of Better Preparing Principals

May 14, 2019


Contact: Jessica Schwartz 

Ann Bradley 

Early lessons on the complex change process show partnerships are possible

New York City (May 14, 2019) – The Wallace Foundation today released a four-part video series, Principal Preparation: A Roadmap for Reform, exploring why and how universities and local school districts are working together to better prepare principals for the rigors of the job.

Initial principal preparation is a topic of considerable interest, particularly among school districts that are taking a strategic approach to developing and supporting school leaders. Research confirms that principals influence student learning, but many school district and university leaders agree that most university-based leadership programs aren’t preparing principals for the challenges of today’s schools.

“A 2015 survey indicated that both superintendents and university preparation programs think partnerships are important for effective leader preparation programs—but both groups said such partnerships are rare,” said Jody Spiro, the director of education leadership at The Wallace Foundation. “These videos provide a look at universities, districts and states participating in the foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative, who have found such partnerships to be of great value in redesigning their programs.”

High-quality preservice preparation is one of four components of a strategic approach to principal preparation, which is also known as building a “principal pipeline.” The other components are having rigorous leader standards that guide principal preparation, hiring, evaluation, and support; a data-informed system of hiring and placement that is based on candidates’ demonstrated skills; and alignment of on-the-job supports and evaluation.

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

The Principal Preparation: A Roadmap for Reform video series includes:

An introductory video, The Case for Change (7:30 min.), that explains why universities and school districts are coming together to prepare principals and the research on effective programs. It features Beverly Hutton of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Deborah Delisle, formerly of ASCD, Michelle Young of the University Council for Educational Administration, Daniel Domenech of AASA: The Superintendents Association, Bonnie Fusarelli of North Carolina State University and Nicholas Pelzer of The Wallace Foundation.

A profile of North Carolina State University in Raleigh (10 min.) 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. “[W]e looked at how N.C. State could provide the experience, course work, and internships so that when they graduate, they are Wake County ready,” explains Mark Savage, the western area superintendent for the Wake County school district.

A profile of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton (10 min.) 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. “The difference between just looking at leaders and looking at a leadership team is the difference between this idea of the heroic superman who goes in front of the school and changes everything to a leader who pulls together multiple people in within the school to create a leadership team that really understands the vision and puts it into practice,” says Daniel Reyes-Guerra, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University.

The final video, Profile of a Mentor: The Ritchie Program for School Leaders (6:30 min.), 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 Ritchie Program has always been very, very fundamentally based on who you are as a leader, how you understand your own personal values and how you bring those values to bear in creating greater equity for kids,” says Susana Cordova, the superintendent of the school district.


The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy that seeks to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of the arts for everyone.

Wallace has six major initiatives under way:

School leadership. Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.

Building audiences for the arts. Making the arts a part of many more people’s lives by working with arts organizations to broaden, deepen and diversify audiences.

Social and emotional learning. Exploring whether and how children benefit if schools and afterschool programs work together to align and improve experiences and climate to build social and emotional skills.

Arts education. Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.

Summer learning. Better understanding the impact of high-quality summer learning programs on disadvantaged children.

Afterschool. Helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to many more children.

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