The job of a principal has changed a lot over the last decade.
Instead of just hiring teachers, managing the building, and stepping in for the toughest discipline issues, today’s principals also serve as catalysts for the quality of classroom instruction. They not only hire teachers but they observe, evaluate and coach them.
That’s why Tennessee is launching a new initiative to get teachers with untapped leadership potential to the principal’s office, as well as support and develop principals who are already there.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re changing our preparation to meet those demands,” said Education Commissioner McQueen. “We want to have strong principals in every school to provide leadership that will create transformative learning experiences for all students.”
McQueen identified leadership development among her top priorities when she began leading the State Department of Education in 2015. Recognizing that principals play a big role in teacher effectiveness — and therefore student outcomes — she started the Tennessee Transformational Leadership Alliance, a group of researchers, administrators and educators committed to improving school leadership across the state.
The new Principal Pipeline Partnership is an outgrowth of that alliance. Using newly available federal funding, it will underwrite partnerships among local districts, universities and nonprofit organizations to develop new training programs, and to improve existing ones.
Applications for partnerships are due May 15. Programs can each receive up to $125,000 in funding over four years, and will begin as soon as July.
State leaders aren’t sure how many grants they’ll award, but hope to have programs across Tennessee, especially serving rural areas.
The money will come under the federal rewrite of No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act. Before, Title II money could only be used to train teachers in four academic core subjects. Now, it can be used to support principals, too.
McQueen said the state is committed to seeing the partnerships bloom, even if President Donald Trump’s administration goes through with its proposal to cut Title II altogether.
“We are still very hopeful that we have Title II funds, but even if we don’t, we will create pathways for this work,” she said.
Partnerships will include principal residencies, in which candidates train under experienced school leaders, as well as ways to support principals once they’ve graduated from programs.
About 45 percent of Tennessee principals are in their first four years on the job, making it especially important that development continues once a principal is hired, said Paul Fleming, the state’s assistant commissioner of teaching and learning.
“We know it’s really critical to provide support for beginning principals,” Fleming said. “I don’t know if there’s a school out there who’s effective without an effective principal.”
At least partnership model spearheaded by local districts already exists, and it’s been an inspiration to the State Department of Education. Since 2010, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has worked with surrounding school systems to train principals through an intensive 15-month Leadership Academy, in which fellows spend four days a week in a school with a mentor principal, and one day in classes at the university.
Jim McIntyre understands the program’s importance from multiple perspectives. He served as superintendent of Knox County Schools from 2008 to 2016, and now oversees the Leadership Academy as the director of UT’s Center for Educational Leadership.
“I thought it was just wonderful and remarkable to know that there was a new cadre of educators every year who came through a very intensive experience that prepared them well for the rigors of leadership,” he said.