A New Generation of School Leaders

We are losing a generation of students. In 2008, a staggering 69.57 percent of students in Indianapolis Public Schools did not graduate from high school, the Associated Press reported. Statewide, the numbers aren’t more promising. 

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By Amy Horton

The Hoosier state’s top education official Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett shared in his August 2010 State of Education Address that about 23,000 students drop out of high school each year, and twice as many black and Hispanic students as white students quit school.

What’s keeping them from succeeding? Sagamore Institute believes strong educational leadership is a key ingredient to helping students survive — and thrive — in kindergarten through 12th grade. Poor standards for principal leadership, academic training focused on regulatory and legal components of school administration, and weak competition all undermine strong educational leaders, and this phenomenon is one of the most detrimental aspects of Indiana’s educational system. Sagamore’s “Lead Indiana” report found that 93 percent of all applicants to become principals in Indiana are accepted. All of Indiana’s students deserve better.

Research shows that after the classroom teacher, the principal is the person with the greatest impact on student success. The Wallace Foundation landmark report, How Leadership Influences Student Learning, highlights the necessity of excellent principals in turning around underperforming schools: “…there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader. Many other factors may contribute to such turnarounds, but leadership is the catalyst.”

Marian’s New Mold

Taking this into account, Sagamore Institute has partnered with Marian University, the Kern Family Foundation, and the Indiana Department of Education to recreate a template for training principals that will force up Indiana’s educational standards.

Marian’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership is recruiting a new breed of principal candidates for all of Indiana’s schools, including those that are most troubled. Marian University President Daniel J. Elsener is passionate about the Academy’s ability to train new principals to improve student outcomes.

“Great leadership is the lifeblood of any organization, and the well-being of children from across our state depends upon having a great leader in every school building,” he said.

The strategy Marian is using to find these candidates is unconventional. They are tapping into business, education, civic, and community organizations to find ideal candidates for the program. They are searching for candidates who are committed to high educational attainment for all students, and who aren’t afraid to shake up the status quo. They’re willing to consider non-traditional candidates like mid-career professionals and military retirees.

The three-year program is designed to infuse Indiana schools with a new generation of principals who are educated, trained, and nurtured to lift student achievement in struggling schools. Graduates of the Academy will earn their Indiana Principal Certification.

The curriculum for the Academy is diverse. It aims to expose students to a variety of methodologies for recognizing and helping underachieving schools. Content will be enriched by Marian’s Schools of Mathematics and Sciences, Business, Liberal Arts, Education, the Center for Organizational Ethics, the Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies, and the Center for Catholic Stewardship.

Five curricular “strands” are taught in the first year of the program:

  • Systems Thinking and Authentic Leadership
  • Culture of High Performance Schools: Values and Character Integration
  • Teacher Performance and Student Learning
  • Statistical Analysis for Teacher Performance and Student Learning
  • Literacy Leadership: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and English/Language Communication

The sixth strand—a Mentored Residency—is a two-year program that provides ongoing professional support starting at the time an individual starts his or her school leadership role. Leadership Assessment, Support, and Educational Research (LASER) teams comprised of Academy mentors, site-based personnel, and business, civic, and governmental executives will provide support, assistance, and counsel to ensure the new leader has the resources they need at the moment they need them most.

Content for these strands will be delivered live via onsite seminars, online courses and lectures, supplemental reading, research, and extensive web-based dialogue and collaboration among participants. The Academy will utilize the broad spectrum of technology currently available in classrooms to make the program fully portable and deliverable across the state.

Marian has recruited a cadre of nationally recognized experts on school reform who will teach the courses:

  • Daniel Goldhaber (University of Washington, Center for Reinventing Public Education) is an expert in inferential statistics, teacher productivity, and student achievement data
  • Ian Mitroff (Retired Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California) is an expert in systems analysis, leadership, and crisis management. He has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 companies, and is the author of two dozen books, including Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger and Better from a Crisis.
  • Samuel Casey Carter (President of CfTB USA, the U.S. affiliate of one of the world’s leading non-profit education companies). Carter is widely recognized as an expert in education reform and character/values integration in schools. He is author of No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools and On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character.
  • E.D. Hirsch, Jr. (University of Virginia) is an internationally recognized author and scholar in cultural and essential literacy and civic participation. He is author of the Core Knowledge series. His most recent books, The Knowledge Deficit and The Making of Americans, expound on a major problem in our schools – ineffective curriculum.
  • Doug Lemov (Uncommon Schools, a non-profit organization dedicated to starting and managing outstanding urban public schools) is a scholar on effective teaching strategies, and is the author of Teach Like a Champion.
  • Angus McBeath (Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based policy institute, Senior Fellow for Public Education; Retired, Edmonton, Canada Superintendent) is credited with developing an internationally recognized School Leaders Program in Edmonton public schools.

Bennett on Board

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett views the Marian Academy as an important plank in his efforts to turn around chronically struggling schools across the state. As State Superintendent, Bennett can identify schools in need, educate citizens about the importance of better leaders for struggling schools, and he can create programs to address the tough issues teachers and administrators face each day. But he relies on partners like Marian University, to build better principals. In announcing a $500,000 award for the program, he identified the program as a “pipeline of skilled, transformational leaders who are willing and able to meet the challenges inside the state’s lowest-performing schools.”

This pipeline will create a new breed of principals—transformational leaders, change agents, risk takers, and bands of troublemakers—who will ensure equal educational opportunity for all students in Indiana, most importantly for those in our lowest achieving schools

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