Tennessee public school administrators need better training before they become principals, according to reviewers who judged the state's winning application for federal stimulus money.
In 200 pages, state education officials laid out specific plans for how to better train teachers and weed out those who are ineffective but mentioned no corresponding goals for principals, said reviewers of Tennessee's Race to the Top application.
But while the comments pointed to a lack of principal preparedness statewide, locally, Hamilton County already has begun addressing the issue, officials say.
Since November, 10 elementary school assistant principals have participated in an Aspiring Principals Academy, while 16 secondary assistant principals have attended similar monthly workshops.
Next year, the school system will combine the efforts into a singular Principal Leadership Academy, which already has received $600,000 in private funding.
"This way it won't be such a steep learning curve once they take over the principalship," said Superintendent Jim Scales.
When Dr. Scales came to Hamilton County four years ago, he noticed that most principals were nearing retirement age and there was no formal training in place to prepare their successors, he said.
There has been a national movement for better principal training, Dr. Scales said, fueled recently by the emphasis in Race to the Top.
"We've been looking at doing this for a couple of years now," he said. "As a district, we have had the right focus for some time, but getting an organized academy in place was something we didn't want to rush into, nor did we have the funds for."
Assistant Superintendent James Colbert, who has been involved with leading the secondary principal workshops this year, said Hamilton County is trying to take a proactive approach to leadership training, along with several other large districts in Tennessee, including Knox and Memphis City.
"I think the state is happy that we've already addressed principal leadership without being told to," he said.
When it comes to administrator training, the state's professional development efforts are more focused on those who already are principals through the Tennessee Academy for School Leaders, said Amanda Anderson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education.
But the job and expectations of being a principal have changed dramatically since the No Child Left Behind law went into effect in 2002, Mr. Colbert said, so pre-training has become a necessity.
"NCLB has exposed some of the weaknesses of some of our future leaders; people read all about your flaws now," he said. "People know when you didn't bring added value to your school and in exactly what category. We're trying to give them a leg up so they have some momentum for when they take the principalship."
Ashley Aldridge, assistant principal at Hardy Elementary School, attended the Aspiring Principals Academy this year and has applied for the Principal Leadership Academy that begins this summer.
She doesn't know yet whether she'll be accepted into the new program, but said she's eager to learn.
"If you're a go-getter and want to be at the top of your field, you have to be and want to continue learning and refine your skills set," she said.
Dr. Aldridge also has attended state-sponsored training workshops.
"Most of the topics overlap, but you gain every time," she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 73: Principals
* 78: Assistant principals
* $62,162: Salary of lowest-paid principal
* $98,832: Salary of highest-paid principal
Source: Hamilton County Department of Education
Saturday: Read about Gov. Phil Bredesen's visit here to discuss Hamilton County's Race to the Top efforts.
In Hamilton County's training, would-be principals have learned how to do things such as make budgets and spend money wisely, create a school schedule and evaluate teachers.
The salaries of principals, who must have master's degrees, are determined by years of teaching and administrative experience and the size of their school.
Clara Sale-Davis, who directs the Benwood Initiative for the Public Education Foundation, has been one of the primary leaders of the elementary school principal training this year. She said her group worked hard at making sure the information provided was a comprehensive curriculum rather than "a bunch of itty-bitty workshops."
Her next presentation is titled "Getting the Keys," she said.
"When they get the call (to be a principal), they'll know what to do next," she said.
Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli
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