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Preparing principals: Program exceeds expectations in first years

Story by Beth Goins
Reposted from Next, the College of Education Magazine.

When the UK College of Education’s Next Generation Leadership Academy (NxGLA) took flight in late 2011 with a $532,418 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation, matched by the University of Kentucky, program leaders hoped it would help school districts across Kentucky to design new systems for learning.

It has met their expectations – and then some. Next Generation districts exceed state percentages in college and/or career readiness, high school graduation rates, college-going rates and AP exam success rates.* With 60 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts participating so far, it connects school leaders and teachers with a network of UK faculty, regional university partners and state and national leaders.

College of Education faculty involved in NxGLA – Carmen Coleman, Linda France and Lu Young – hearing so many district success stories, considered how to apply these concepts to preparing educators for a school leadership role – the school principal. And so, beginning with the 2015-16 academic year, the Department of Educational Leadership Studies has retooled the UK College of Education’s Principal Preparation program to incorporate NxGL principles.

Next Generation Leadership Academy participants, facilitated by Linda France (standing). Photo by Amanda Nelson.

“The Next Generation Principal Preparation program is unique in that it focuses on leading for deeper learning,” said Lu Young. “In keeping with the Next Generation Academy and the work of the UK National Center for Innovation in Education, we emphasize high expectations, competency-based learning and customized pathways as the means to ensure that ALL students are prepared to graduate, ready for future success. To that end, we promote personalized learning through inquiry, balanced assessment and student agency as key levers for next-generation leaders. Through the Academy and the Center, our aspiring principals have access to acclaimed leaders across the country who are doing similar cutting-edge work.”

Over a two-year period, aspiring principals earn 30 credit hours required for principal licensure/certification and participate in the NxGL academy both years. The classes are delivered online, so that students in the program only need to travel to the seven NxGLA sessions offered each year.

The program is already leaving its fingerprints on schools across Kentucky. The first cohort is made up of 16 students from eastern, central, south-central, western and northern Kentucky, representing districts that are urban, suburban, rural, large and small.

“We focus so intensely on good instruction that these Next Generation principal experiences, in conjunction with the Academy, are already having a direct impact on our students’ instructional practices. Many of them, for instance, are implementing project-based learning for the first time as a result of their learning in the Academy,” Young noted.

Sara Vogelpohl, who has taught for four years at Harrison Elementary in Lexington and is part of the UK College of Education Next Generation Principalship Program, said she has changed the way she teaches since being part of the program in the UK College of Education.

“I have a more fluid classroom and would love to incorporate more project-based learning so that my students have the ability to express their learning through a format which they choose. I think this will also help foster their 21st century skills, such as problem solving and communicating effectively, “ Vogelpohl said.

While she relishes her role in the classroom, Vogelpohl has had an interest in school administration since her undergraduate years. The blended format of the principalship appealed to her, and she was especially intrigued by the ability to participate in the Next Generation Leadership Academy.

Lu Young (top) and Carmen Coleman (bottom right) with principalship program students. Photo by Amanda Nelson.

The program’s design also attracted Amber Smith, a second-grade teacher at Thornwilde Elementary in Boone County. Although she doesn’t have immediate plans to pursue a principal position, Smith said she enjoys mentoring student teachers and eventually wants to move into a school leadership position, particularly to make a broader impact on education.

Smith and Vogelpohl were among several principalship program students who received College of Education scholarships, but more students will benefit from scholarships next year, thanks to the Women & Philanthropy network at the University of Kentucky. The group seeks to improve and enrich the lives of Kentuckians by supporting a wide range of scholarship opportunities. The Women & Philanthropy network will provide eight $4,000 scholarships for students in the program.

“This scholarship gave me the push I needed to go ahead and start along the path of obtaining my principal certification,” Vogelpohl said. “Without it, I probably would not have taken classes this year and the thought of that makes me really sad now, as I am becoming not only a better leader, but also a better teacher. We are preparing kids for jobs that are not yet created and have to be willing to make changes and be forward-thinking. I think UK has the right mindset for this way of thinking through its principalship program.”

Participants in the program range from younger teachers to those with more than 20 years teaching experience, highlighting the fact that it’s not too early nor too late to pursue a principalship program. “When someone feels called to lead a school or district, I hope she/he is willing to step into the role no matter how many years they already have under their belt. I also believe that participating in our program can have the effect of re-energizing and inspiring our students to take on greater leadership roles,” Young said.

Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, the program is expanding its reach as the college partners with the Fayette County’s Aspiring Leaders program.

“We think this will help us have an even greater impact over time,” Young said.

*Source: Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics

Click here to learn more about the University of Kentucky Principal Preparation Program. 

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