This summer, we’ll be exploring new research and best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. Last week, we took a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level. This week, let’s talk about how we can foster leadership in our districts and schools.

Let’s start with something we all know—Connecticut needs strong school leaders to help drive improvement statewide and especially in low-income districts.  Principals make a significant difference in a student’s educational career, even though they may have limited direct interaction. An analysis published in Education Next noted that an effective principal can raise the achievement of a typical student by two to seven months, while ineffective principals will lower student achievement by an equivalent amount. Other reports show that the principal accounts for 25% of a school’s impact on student achievement. While studies may vary regarding the exact level of influence, the conclusion is ubiquitous: principals have a meaningful impact on student achievement.  And the results of these studies are magnified in economically disadvantaged school systems.

Unfortunately, Connecticut’s need for strong administrators is growing drastically. With more than 40% of administrators over the age of 55, Connecticut will likely have to attract 1,500 additional school administrators in the next 5 to 10 years. The real question is: Where will we find school leaders to replace those who are leaving?

Connecticut needs to foster leadership in order to continue to improve education for all students. Here are three best practices to help find the school leaders of tomorrow. 

Think Outside the School

School districts across the nation are beginning to look to other professions to find school leaders.

Many of the characteristics that make successful business and civic leaders are the same ones that make good school and district leaders.  In any career path, a leader must be able to motivate employees, foster a positive and innovative organizational culture, promote collaboration and ongoing professional development, allocate resources to reach established goals, and act as the public face for the organization. Those who have these skill sets should be given the opportunity to lead in a variety of fields, including education.

In fact, there are already leaders who have come from other sectors to work in education and proven themselves by successfully turning around school districts.  The Colorado Department of Education named John Barry Superintendent of the Year in 2010, although he had no prior experience in public education. After 30 years of service in the United States Air Force, Barry spearheaded a strategic plan geared towards increasing student achievement, closing the achievement gap, and reaching out to the community.  What is even more telling is that his success is not isolated: the Broad Superintendent Academy, which trains superintendents from non-traditional backgrounds, has actually produced four state “Superintendent of the Year” award recipients and received numerous awards and accolades.

Currently, Connecticut requires “50 months of successful teaching” before a would-be leader can become certified as a principal or superintendent through traditional training programs. Thanks to new laws passed in 2010, the Connecticut State Department of Education is authorized to create Alternative Routes to Administrator Certification. However, Connecticut has yet to reach out to those beyond the education sector.

What’s in a State?

Connecticut needs to look beyond its own borders in order to find the next generation of school leaders.  Administrator certification reciprocity is one way to begin addressing the shortage of qualified administrators. It also has the added advantage of increasing competition for administrator positions, which will result in raising the number of high-performing administrators in our schools.

Many states are already finding a balance between providing reciprocity with other states and keeping high standards in place. For example, Georgia accepts out-of-state administrator certifications as long as the applicant has at least five years of satisfactory job performance and meets Georgia’s requirements for licensure with respect to content knowledge, standards of conduct, recency of study, and special education.  In this way, the state is able to ensure that administrators meet competitive standards without causing insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles to out-of-state candidates.

Connecticut, on the other hand, is still using bureaucracy to interfere with the talent pool (as evidenced by the goings on with Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas.) Under current law, all of out-of-state administrators who would like to become certified in Connecticut must complete a qualified educational leadership program —regardless of how highly qualified the individual might be.

Today’s Teachers, Tomorrow’s Leaders

In order to foster leadership from within the education sector, superintendents and principals should mentor teachers who have shown strong leadership skills, in order to help them become strong school leaders.  Identifying the best candidates will help to deepen the future pool of administrators by encouraging teachers with high potential to pursue administrator certification.

Schools, districts, and even whole states, are encouraging teacher-principals mentorships. The Florida Leadership Academy for Schools of Innovation and Improvement identifies teachers in high needs schools who have demonstrated instructional excellence, leadership, and a passion for working in high poverty areas and certifies them through extensive mentorship programs and weekend seminars. The program focuses on teaching new principals the realities and best practices for turning around schools.

However, it’s important to remember that this method comes at a price; encouraging some of the best teachers to become administrators means that we will have to develop more successful teachers to replace them. Follow CCER over the next week to take a look at how we can develop and support excellent teaching to replenish the teacher talent pool as some of our skilled teachers become administrators.