URI, Providence public schools find ‘principal way’ to improve administrative performance

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KINGSTON, R.I. – June 27, 2011 – The University of Rhode Island and the Providence Public schools have been quietly working together for the last 10 years to build a cadre of skilled administrators capable of strengthening the school system.

The Aspiring Principals Program, founded in 2002, was established to educate those in leadership positions to focus on the needs of Providence schools. It developed into an 18-month URI master’s degree.

The program is based on the current vision and needs of Providence schools. Participants are required to complete internships as principals in training.

To be accepted into the program, the applicants, all current Providence teachers, must submit an application containing multiple letters of recommendation and a professional portfolio displaying leadership skills.

“It is a highly competitive program,” said Anne Seitsinger, URI associate professor of education. “The applicants submit their portfolio and are then interviewed by a panel. We try to keep cohorts of student classes manageable, generally a maximum of 20 students, in order to keep the program from turning into a lecture. We run discussion seminars.”

To provide relevant information to the students, coordinators of the program look at the various types of challenges Providence schools face. Teachers and administrators must deal with a student body that faces poverty, language differences, and other social issues that can be barriers to student achievement. They are also dealing with budget cuts, layoffs and related issues.

To tackle these issues, there is a need for accurate data collection and analysis.

“One of the courses we offer focuses on enabling principals to analyze data from state testing programs as well as classroom data to improve instruction and student learning. Also, we provide them with the tools to utilize standardized test measures to evaluate if there has been acceptable gain during the year and if it meets goals,” said Professor David Byrd, director of URI’s School of Education.

After completing the required coursework, students are then assigned to an internship. During that time, they are released from their regular teaching positions and replaced by a substitute, who is funded by the Wallace Foundation, a national program that supports and shares effective ideas and practices to improve learning and educational opportunities for children.

To pair interns and mentors, the program’s directors have worked to create matches based on grade levels. For instance, elementary teachers are paired with elementary principals.

This part of the program is not just an intense time commitment for the intern.

“There is a significant time obligation on the part of the principal-mentor. They receive help from the intern in running the schools, but they also need to put in time to aid and teach the aspiring principal. It’s an in-depth process for both parties,” said Byrd.

“The Providence School Department has been a partner for 10 years with the University of Rhode Island in the conception, development, and implementation of an Aspiring Principals Program,” said Ed Miley, director of leadership, support and development, Providence Public School Department. “The fourth cohort of this degree and licensure program is about to graduate, and join the more than 70 percent of past graduates who are already in leadership positions, both in the district and around the country. Close cooperation, mutual respect, and shared responsibility for all aspects of the program were keys to the success of this district/university partnership.”

Christianne Fisher, a Central High School science teacher and currently enrolled in the program, has started her internship at Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex. The facility is a combination of the Providence Academy of International Studies and William B. Cooley, Sr. Health, Science Technology Academy. It has faced its share of challenges including low-test scores that have led to the State Department of Education putting in an aggressive turn-around model there.

Working with Janelle Clarke, a prior aspiring principal graudate and Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex principal, Fisher is already learning a vast amount ranging from everyday organizational tasks to attending meetings and conferences for turn-around processes, district bullying policies and school events.

“The workload alone for leading two schools is enormous, but to also be responsible for implementing a turn-around plan and accreditation processes is a phenomenal undertaking. To be in a position such as Ms. Clarke’s requires dedication, drive, district support and a strong set of skills in both leadership and management,” said Fisher. “Just in the short time participating in my internship, I have already learned an enormous amount from my principal-mentor.”

The final stage requires aspiring principals to compose a final thesis detailing ongoing projects implemented during student internships. An example would be improving school-to-parent or guardian communication.

The program has helped URI develop a new master’s degree and tailor it to a specific population that has potential to improve Providence Public Schools.

“The district has strived to be proactive in addressing the issues that have negatively impacted the success of its student body. They have actively sought out programs, research, and consultants among numerous other resources to bridge tremendous gaps, as evident with the Aspiring Principals Program. They draw applicants from an extremely talented pool of professionals and I feel that they have a lot to offer Providence,” said Fisher.

This release was written by Alicia Blain, an intern in URI’s Department of Communications and Marketing and a public relations major.