Academic journal article Education Next

The Waiting Game: Graduates of New Leaders for New Schools Sport Enviable Resumes and a Zeal for Education Reform. but Will School Districts Give Them the Key to the Principal's Office?

Academic journal article Education Next

The Waiting Game: Graduates of New Leaders for New Schools Sport Enviable Resumes and a Zeal for Education Reform. but Will School Districts Give Them the Key to the Principal's Office?

Article excerpt

ON THE FIRST Monday of the 2003-04 school year, Pablo Sierra was not where he hoped to be. Instead of greeting students as the new principal of a Chicago public school, Sierra was driving downtown for another round of meetings with district officials, trying to keep his spirits up and hoping that a position would open soon.

As a newly minted graduate of the widely heralded New Leaders for New Schools training program for aspiring principals, Sierra (and the developers of New Leaders) had understandably expected to find a slew of opportunities awaiting him. He thought that his prestigious MBA, private-sector experience, and nine years as a classroom teacher would distinguish him from more traditional applicants for the principalship. The intense yearlong "residency" program developed by New Leaders would make up for his lack of traditional administrative experience.

As of September, however, Sierra had all but given up on his first choice: being tapped to run a neighborhood school. He had started looking for a start-up or charter school opportunity and was hoping to avoid taking a job as an assistant principal. The silver lining is that Sierra was eventually able to secure a job as the assistant principal of a charter school and is now set to head a new charter school opening next year.

Sierra's situation was not unique among his New Leaders peers. Of his graduating class at the program's Chicago location, less than half had found jobs by late June. Those without preexisting connections to the community or to the school bureaucracy were struggling even to get interviews. Surprisingly, Sierra's private-sector training and experience were "not being perceived as positive," he said. "All the positions are going to experienced [assistant principals]."

Since its founding four years ago, New Leaders has shown that there is no shortage of accomplished individuals like Sierra who want to be principals. The program continues to expand each year and has become a national voice for the reform of principal training. The remaining questions are whether school districts will let New Leaders run their own neighborhood schools--and are the New Leaders fellows really ready for the job?

New Blood

New Leaders for New Schools is the brainchild of a group of graduates from Harvard's business and education schools including CEO Jonathan Schnur, a former Clinton administration official. The New Leaders idea is to recruit accomplished individuals from both the private and public sectors, including public education, and provide them with the leadership training necessary to take on significant school management roles. "We're looking for the best people, wherever we can find them," says Schnur.

The motivation behind New Leaders was to supply new blood to cities that were reportedly facing shortages of qualified principals ready to turn around dysfunctional schools. New Leaders fellows would also receive the kind of leadership and management training that principals hired through traditional routes seldom enjoy. Each cohort of "new leaders" is chosen through a highly competitive application process. Those selected take courses during the summer, then spend a year in full-time "residency" at a school under the guidance of a mentor principal.

While securing principalships for the program's trainees has been challenging, finding accomplished aspirants has not. In 2003 the program received more than 1,000 completed applications for just 55 spots. Overall, roughly half the applications--and half of those accepted into the program--have come from nontraditional candidates, meaning that they were coming to the program from outside education or from another part of the country. Even those with traditional education backgrounds have flocked to New Leaders, seeking a program that is more hands-on and collegial than many of the principal-training programs based at schools of education. …

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