Public Schools and Higher Education Working Together to Improve Principal Training

March 25, 2008

CHARLESTON, W.Va. _ The West Virginia Department of Education, the state’s higher education institutions and other stakeholders are working together in an effort to strengthen principal preparation programs and ultimately student achievement in the 21st century.

The department has launched the West Virginia Leadership Development and Support Collaborative, whose members will spend the next year creating recommendations and proposals to better prepare leaders for 21st century schools.

“It is imperative that West Virginia educators are prepared to help students meet the

higher demands and greater expectations of the 21st century knowledge economy,” West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine said. “To develop the top students in the world, we need to develop the best schools and adequately prepare principals to lead them. We can no longer prepare leaders sitting in the classroom listening to lectures. Just as we are changing how we teach our children, we also must incorporate real-world experiences in our principal preparation programs.”

Improving the effectiveness of public school principals is an urgent task as schools across the country work to incorporate 21st century skills, tools, content and assessments into the classroom. Effective leadership is a crucial element that can have a positive effect on school climate, staff morale and especially student performance. Recent research shows that leadership can affect student achievement by 25 to 30 percent.


“If you can combine a strong leader with quality teachers you’ve got the best of both worlds in helping kids succeed,” said Kathy O’Neill with the Southern Regional Education Board, who is a consultant on the project. “The benefit of a strong leader is that he or she knows how to pick quality teachers so that it becomes a supportive environment for students and teaching and learning.”


In most cases in West Virginia and elsewhere, the university principal preparation model has not changed in 30 years if at all, O’Neill said. But she is quick to note that universities likely have not changed their programs because state policymakers have not mandated nor set expectations for them to change.  


“We can no longer protect the status quo for the sake of the status quo,” said Van Dempsey, dean of the teacher education program at Fairmont State University. “It’s got to be about getting better. We have to provide a lot more clinical practice so that our principal candidates have a better understanding of the day-to-day complexity of leadership within a school.”


Already, the West Virginia Department of Education is establishing guidelines that universities can use to develop 21st century teacher preparation programs. Marshall University is following the department’s lead and moving forward with efforts to revamp its educator preparation programs to incorporate 21st century skills, said Roslyn Templeton, dean of Marshall’s College of Education and a member of the collaborative. Marshall’s 21st Educator Program includes components for pre-service, in-service, master’s level and leadership studies for principals and superintendents.

“Nobody should be beyond a close examination of their practices because we all have room for improvement,” Templeton said. “This collaborative provides us with an excellent opportunity to help each other and ultimately to help the students in West Virginia succeed.”

A lack of connection between K-12 and higher education historically in the United States has been deeply rooted in U.S. education policy. The country's two separate systems of mass education – K-12 on one hand and universities and colleges on the other – rarely collaborated to establish consistent standards. But a new willingness between K-12 and higher education to work together and affect significant change has been improving among the various education sectors as the public demands greater accountability from its schools.

West Virginia’s small size and the cooperative attitudes of its leaders is a plus as the state works to revamp leadership training, O’Neill and others said.

“This is the state where change of this magnitude could and should happen and I think our department would embrace the idea,” said Richard Hartnett, professor of West Virginia University’s educational leadership programs. “There is a culture here that gives us the opportunity to put something really unusual together and make significant change that will benefit student learning.”


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