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WKU selected by Wallace Foundation for initiative to improve principal training

7 universities will participate in 4-year, $47 million project

WKU is one of seven universities across the country selected by The Wallace Foundation to participate in a $47 million initiative to improve training for school principals.

WKU will spend the next four years working with the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board to “conceptualize principal preparation and be more inclusive and cooperative with community, state and other stakeholders,” said Marguerita Desander, head of the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research in WKU’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences.

WKU will receive more than $1.7 million in the first year of the University Principal Preparation Initiative along with guidance on redesigning the program from the Foundation. At the end of the four-year initiative, an independent study by RAND Corporation will capture lessons from the participating universities and their partners to be shared with policymakers and practitioners across the country. (More: Wallace Foundation news release)

The WKU proposal will bring all 11 principal preparation programs in Kentucky together, Dr. Desander said. WKU will take the lead on helping redesign curriculum by looking at the changing needs of principals and school districts, what current programs do well and not so well, and developing a leadership tracking system.

“This will provide all kinds of information so we can understand different schools and dynamics, who is exceling, trends and patterns,” she said. “We will also be thinking about how we can scale this to the state level.”

While the program will “entail a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Dr. Desander said her department is excited and engaged.

“We have to be nimble,” she said. “Education is at a crossroads of accountability and we want the best possible preparation for our school leaders.”

The Wallace Foundation was interested in finding university programs that serve districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students whose schools could benefit from effective school leadership. WKU’s application was different in that it proposed partnering with GRREC, a cooperative of 42 school districts, instead of three individual districts.

“We know from research that school principals require excellent training with high-quality, practical experiences to become effective leaders, but most are simply not getting this,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “Because many school districts don’t have the capacity to train as many principals as they need or to train future principals at all, the best way to reach more aspiring school leaders is through the university programs that typically provide needed certification. We are confident that the selected universities want to raise the bar for their programs, work in partnership with their local school districts and serve as models for other universities.”

Others selected were Albany State University in Georgia, Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University, the University of Connecticut and Virginia State University.

“We are seeking to learn how these seven universities accomplish their program redesign as an important first step in improving how principals are prepared for the demanding job of leading school improvement across the country,” Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace, said.

The University Principal Preparation Initiative builds on 15 years of Wallace-supported research and experience about what makes for effective principals and their “pre-service” training at universities. The initiative seeks to explore how university programs can improve their training so it reflects the evidence on how best to prepare effective principals, and then to share these insights to benefit the broader field.

The foundation hopes the initiative can contribute over the long term to the development of a new national approach to preparing effective principals, one focusing on evidence-based policies and practices in three areas:

  • Developing and implementing high-quality courses of study with practical, on-the-job experiences.
  • Putting in place strong university-district partnerships.
  • Developing state policies about program accreditation, principal licensure or certification, and other matters (funded internships, for example) to promote more effective training statewide.

The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Summer and expanded learning: Better understanding the impact of high-quality summer learning programs on disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day in ways that benefit students.

Contact: Marguerita Desander, (270) 745-6039

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