A new initiative aimed at boosting achievement among disadvantaged students is focused on developing a new kind of school principal.
That principal would be a carefully selected proven leader from any number of fields trained to take the helm of struggling schools.
An education background is not required.
With $3.5 million in state funding, Bright New Leaders for Ohio Schools is a collaborative effort from the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business and Ohio Department of Education.
Bright is recruiting 35 to 40 proven leaders to partake in an intensive year-long training, mentorship and education program. When they are done, they will become principals at high-poverty schools in Columbus and elsewhere in the state.
The effort is a merger of two widely accepted concepts, one from education and the other from business.
The first is a 2012 study sponsored by the roundtable in conjunction with Ohio State and the Department of Education that examined nine high-performing schools with student poverty rates of 50 percent or more. While high poverty would suggest poor performance, these schools succeeded because each was headed by a strong leader.
The second idea is that good leaders, in the corporate world or elsewhere, can get results in a number of settings.
“Good leaders, really effective leaders, are not situation-specific. They create a vision, they inspire people, they gain respect, they treat people with dignity,” said Tony Rucci, a professor at the Fisher College and academic co-director of the Bright program.
“We want people who are at a point in their life that they want to give back because they care about children.”
This isn’t the first program for training school principals, but those involved with Bright claim none is as comprehensive.
Bright fellows, currently going through the application process, will begin working alongside accomplished school principals this summer. For the next year, they also will be studying at the Fisher College, meeting with education leaders and visiting high-performing school systems.
Upon completion of the program, they will have earned a master’s degree in business administration, be licensed as an Ohio school principal and placed in a school where they are asked to serve for at least three years. Tuition is paid and fellows will receive a modest monthly stipend.
“Nobody is doing this anywhere else in the country,” said Richard A. Stoff, president and CEO of the roundtable.
He equates Bright with Teach for America, which “seeks to attract 20-somethings from college campuses and says to them, instead of going out and earning your fortune, try teaching. We will train you.
“Bright is a Teach for America for millennials through mid-career people, not to become teachers, but for experienced and successful leaders to become principals,” he said.
The program has drawn applicants from business, the military, nonprofit groups and classroom teachers.
“We believe this has the potential to strengthen our principal pipeline,” said Karen McClellan, who is coordinating Bright for Columbus schools.
District leaders support alternative pathways to the education profession and are encouraged by the collaboration of educators and business to develop school leaders.
The research, said McClellan, administrator of Columbus’ office of School Leadership Development, is clear. Of factors that educators can control, the top indicator of student success is an effective classroom teacher followed by a strong building principal.
“Strong leaders with a passion for helping children give us high hopes.”
Ohio schools Superintendent Richard A. Ross, who sits on the Bright governance board, agreed, pointing to a recent report that found “policy changes and budgetary manipulations alone will not drive student gains. … Any real gains to Ohio’s school and student performance will primarily be the result of work done by district leaders, school principals and teachers.”
Decades of education reform in Ohio have produced the 3rd-grade reading guarantee, Common Core academic standards and state-issued school report cards, among other initiatives.
“The huge disappointment in education reform is that reform has been glacially slow. It’s been a few steps forward, a few back. But we have to keep trying different things to move the dial,” Stoff said.
“We think (Bright) holds tremendous promise. … I’m completely persuaded that if we did nothing else but train, develop and place” building principals, it would have the single greatest “ influence and leverage” on student success.