Barbara Jenkins studied education, and she worked in schools for years. But when she was named a superintendent, she was still surprised by the abrupt change in responsibilities. “You think a superintendent is like the lead principal or lead teacher for a school district,” she said. “But you have to think more like a CEO of a major corporation."

For nearly 20 years, the educational nonprofit Broad Center has been helping guide educators like Jenkins into leadership roles at public schools, with a recognition that teachers, principals and others rising through the ranks will need very different skills to run a massive urban school system. Superintendents need to be equipped to manage enormous budgets, negotiate with unions, navigate politics, ensure food is safe and respond to crises.

The goal is to make public school systems engines for excellence and equity, said Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of the Broad Center, by concentrating on an often-overlooked piece: the management.

Now a $100 million gift will further that mission, launching the Broad Center at Yale School of Management and a new master’s degree program that will allow rising public-education leaders to graduate tuition-free.

The gift from the Broad Foundation, the largest ever to the School of Management, aims to strengthen leadership in public education. Leading a large urban school district is a complicated undertaking, and one that requires capable managers to help carry out the mission, Knight said. Often those top roles are filled by teachers who were promoted, but their skills don’t always match the need for expertise in finances, human relations and other areas.

Kerwin Charles, dean of Yale’s School of Management, said it’s a natural fit for Yale, because the school’s mission is broader than most business schools, encompassing leadership in the public sector as well as private. Some graduates go on to work on Wall Street, in consulting and other private-sector roles, he said, but others manage entities such as hospitals or nonprofit arts organizations.

Superintendents are like the chief executive officers of public schools, he said. “The kinds of problems that come to their desks are budgeting, fiscal management, organizational behavior. ... That is consistent with our long-standing mission.”

One aspect will allow people to earn a master’s degree from Yale, over a year or two. Another will offer short-term, nondegree programs that will most likely serve people who are already superintendents or principals. Charles also hopes Yale will become a repository of data about educational leadership that a superintendent could draw upon to learn how others have responded to budget crunches, for example, or violence in schools.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 20 years and I can think of no better future for The Broad Center than Yale University,” Eli Broad, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, said in a written statement.

Jenkins, who has won awards for her leadership as superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, said the lessons learned at the Broad Center prepared her to build trust with the school board and the community, to ensure that she had buy-in for the district’s strategic plan, and to delegate authority to strong deputies. “You have to pry your fingers off that level of detail,” she said, “because your job is so vast."

Without the efforts of the Broad Foundation to prepare strong leaders for urban school districts, she said, “I don’t think public education would make some of the gains we have seen in recent years. ... I’m excited to see this new chapter begin.”