Principals from the District’s traditional public schools and public charter schools will spend the next 11 months learning how to better manage their schools — working together — as part of a program aimed at improving school leadership across the city.
Beginning this month, 10 D.C. Public Schools principals and 10 charter school principals will immerse themselves in a graduate training program that will teach them how to navigate the complexities of running an urban school. The principals will learn how to better develop teacher talent, change school culture and respond to crisis situations.
The program, based at Georgetown University, has been around since 2013 but previously was offered only to D.C. Public Schools employees. It has now opened up to charter school principals.
It will bring principals from the two sectors into the same room — a rarity, since they often are seen as competing. Traditional school advocates argue that the charters strip neighborhood schools of resources and are not held to the same standards to educate the hardest-to-serve students, while charter school advocates say their schools offer District families a necessary alternative to neighborhood schools and more control over their children’s education. Charters are popular in the District, enrolling nearly half of the D.C.’s public school students.
But the principals in the training program, and those funding it, want to set all that rhetoric aside.
“To the educators that are attracted to this kind of opportunity, it just doesn’t matter if the school is a public, charter, private or virtual school. Good educators want to learn from good educators,” said Marc Sternberg, the K-12 education program director for the Walton Family Foundation, which donated $729,000 to the initiative.
Participants will take 14 courses at Georgetown and will spend time in their peers’ schools, observing and brainstorming ideas for dealing with challenges. At the end of the program, the principals earn an executive master’s in leadership degree from Georgetown’s business school.
The total cost of the program is $70,000 per principal; the principals contribute $10,000, with the rest of the funding come from the Walton Foundation and the university.
Robert Bies, a Georgetown professor of management who directs the program, said he hopes principals will gain skills that will help boost student achievement in schools across both sectors. While initiatives that bring traditional public schools and charters together often involve top executives, Bies said it is less common to see school leaders meeting directly.
“In some cities, traditional public schools and charters don’t get along with each other,” Bies said. “Often the children get lost in this debate.”
Bies said school systems often focus on improving teachers’ skills in an effort to improve academic achievement, but there is now “an emerging view that the school leadership makes an impact.”
Kortni Stafford, principal at Kelly Miller Middle School, a traditional school in Lincoln Heights, wants to strengthen her organizational skills so that she can help everyone in the school, from teachers to community partners, work toward improving academic results. The Ward 7 school has about 450 students, all of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Last year, 8 percent of Kelly Miller students met or exceeded reading standards on national standardized tests linked to the Common Core standards; in math, 7 percent of the school’s students met standards.
“All principals are instructional leaders, but we also have lots of other responsibilities, like making sure we have toilet paper, and that there are enough lunches, and fun incentives for students,” said Stafford, who is in her second year as principal at the school.
Kathryn Procope, principal at Howard University Middle School, already has a master’s degree, but she wanted to participate in the program because of the collaboration between principals from traditional schools and charters.
Howard Middle, a charter school on Howard’s campus, sits minutes away from Benjamin Banneker High School, a traditional public school. Procope and the Banneker principal regularly discuss how to better prepare students for high school, she said.
“I want to expand on a partnership like that. We all educate the same children,” said Procope, who has led the school for two years. “This type of collaboration is important so we can make sure we are providing an excellent education to the students of the District of Columbia.”