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Principal Preparation Program opens

 A new 18-month preparation program has been formed at the University of Delaware, providing the state’s aspiring school leaders a new opportunity to be trained for certification with a greater focus on real-world leadership practice. Over the past several years, the Delaware Department of Education, Professional Standards Board and State Board of Education have changed policies to encourage and support new and innovative programs.

The Principal Preparation Program at the University of Delaware received initial start-up funding from the state’s federal Race to the Top grant as part of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit’s effort to foster the development of high-quality routes to leadership training and certification. The goal of this effort is to better prepare school leaders by providing more robust training based on real-world skill development facilitated through ongoing feedback. Previously, under state regulation, candidates seeking  principal certification in Delaware could take six required courses in school leadership from any institution that offered them. Hundreds of school leaders earned their Delaware certification by completing this assortment of courses independently. That route was eliminated in March 2013 by the Professional Standards Board and State Board of Education and sunset last autumn.

UD’s new approach, approved under a revised regulation for such programs, is designed to be more comprehensive, coherent and focused on the real day-to-day challenges of school leadership, including curriculum, instruction, assessment, early childhood education, management and operations. It requires either a full-time residency or two internships that aspiring principals will complete as they continue teaching. The courses required by the program will be co-taught by University of Delaware faculty and a current principal, human resources director or superintendent.

The program also is designed to be more selective—with annual cohort sizes ranging from 10 to 15 participants. Secretary of Education Mark Murphy approved the UD program earlier this spring after the University of Delaware spent a year preparing and completing its program application.

“Strong leadership is critical to the success of any school. Through this program, candidates will join a small cohort of individuals seeking to gain experience dealing with the real-world challenges they will face when leading their own schools,” Murphy said.

The application deadline is June 30. To qualify, applicants need at least five years of experience as an educator, must have completed a master’s degree with a minimum of a “B” average and must be able to show they already are serving in leadership roles in their school.  These requirements outlined by the University of Delaware surpass the minimum regulatory requirements—something that all supporters of the program believe is the right thing to do.

Jackie Wilson, the director of UD’s Academy for School Leadership, said her team is looking for key professional and personal characteristics.  “I want to see a grittiness to them,” she said. “If they have taught in a low-income rural or a city school, that’s one way to build that, but regardless they need a mental toughness that shows they will never give up on their students.”

Comprehensive Preparation: Beyond Theory to Practice

In addition to academics, candidates who go through the program will learn about community engagement, addressing the needs of families in poverty, homelessness, social justice, ethics and equity. To help them cope with the demands of leading a school, graduates of the program will receive a year of one-on-one coaching after they are hired as principals or assistant principals.

In designing the program, Wilson consulted with superintendents, principals and personnel directors across the state. She said she expected school districts to identify promising candidates and encourage them to participate. Some districts may even cover the $11,500 cost per participant for the program. Those accepted are required to attend an intensive, four-day kick-off session Aug. 10-13.

Tammy J. Croce, the retiring director of personnel for the Lake Forest School District, said the program is designed to give aspiring principals a sense of what to expect when they are hired.

“It goes beyond the theory because you have to get involved in your school’s programming and have to make yourself part of creating the vision for the school and get involved in some decision-making with your school leadership team,” she said.

The University of Delaware program joins the state’s first alternative route to principal certification, the Delaware Leadership Project, which is specifically designed to prepare aspiring leaders for work in high-need schools.  That program was approved as a pilot in 2011 and gained full approval in 2014. Other routes to principal certification include the completion of a Master’s in School Administration, including local programs at Wilmington University and Delaware State University or an approved out-of-state program. 

Alison May
(302) 735-4000