This post is excerpted from the recent eSchool News article How Our Leadership Academies Are Creating Better School Principals by Linda Mulvey, the Chief Academic Officer for the Syracuse City School District in New York.
Like many other urban school systems, Syracuse City School District (SCSD) has faced a number of challenges. Retaining teachers past their third year of teaching, too many competing initiatives that were unaligned to larger goals, and—most pressing—low academic performance among disadvantaged students. (According to a recent study by the Century Foundation, Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas.)
A couple years ago, we took a fresh look into what it would take to move the needle on these enormous challenges. The research was clear: the largest non-classroom-based impact on student achievement as well as teacher retention is the effectiveness of building principals.
We also recognized that school leadership is quite possibly the most difficult job to do well. We knew we had to make a substantial and systemic investment in our principals if we were going to make progress.
In 2015, we decided the best course of action was to build a series of leadership academies. We started by asking ourselves two questions.
1. What does it look like to be a great leader in our district?
To answer this question, we turned to the leadership effectiveness framework we had created in 2013 with Insight Education Group. Consisting of two domains, Instructional Leadership and Organizational Leadership, the framework defines what it means to be an effective building leader at all phases of a leader’s career and sets high standards for effective leadership based upon research and best practices.
We expect our leaders to exhibit effective instructional leadership, including establishing a shared vision for success and creating a culture of data-driven decision-making. In addition, they are expected to create a culture of high expectations, manage innovation, and lead with integrity and fairness.
2. What are our school leaders telling us is their greatest need?
To answer this question, we listened to our leaders. We engaged in discussions with them about their needs for long-term professional development and what it would take for them to feel supported.
Based on information gleaned from these two guiding questions, we partnered with Insight to develop unique goals and pathways to school leadership for four different stakeholder groups: Aspiring Leaders, Vice Principals, New Principals, and Veteran Principals.
While our goals for each stakeholder group differ based on each group’s role, we also worked hard to have continuity so all school leaders have a common language with which to operate. Since we launched in the 2015–2016 school year:
- 100% of our leaders rated the academies as effective or highly effective.
- We have realized gains in student proficiency in our ELA and math scores.
- Our graduation rates have continued to rise.
While it has been resource-intensive to create this customized approach to leadership development, we strongly believe the investment we are making in our building leaders is having a much larger and lasting impact than an “off-the-shelf” approach to leadership development. We look forward to building on the success we’ve seen so far.
Through Insight's Leadership Academy and executive coaching services, school and district leaders are finding success in in solving their biggest leadership challenges. Learn more >
Recommended Next Reading