“Principalship is a difficult job that entails a lot of moving parts,” said Hochbein, who has conducted extensive research in how principals allocate their time. In addition to running an educational organization that develops students’ literacy and numeracy, he said, principals also have to deal with other complex issues, such as absenteeism and bullying.
Research provides insight into matters such as grading and how to create a positive school climate, but other principal duties benefit from on-the-job or apprentice-like training, he said. How do you handle a piece of playground equipment that’s failing? How do you respond to the flurry of emails that come in? What happens if a teacher is absent? The REAL program, he said, will give aspiring school leaders a sense of the daily demands and challenges they will face. Participants also will receive assignments for their own longer-term improvement projects to help bolster their individual school’s effectiveness.
The two-year REAL program is funded by a $298,665 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced the award in early August—part of $2.1 million in grants to 11 universities to support innovative teacher and school leadership programs and strengthen the state’s educator workforce.
“Many of our communities with the greatest needs also struggle to attract and retain teachers and school leaders, which directly impacts students,” said Wolf in a release.“These grants will allow our universities to provide advanced training to better prepare educators to serve in our most high-need areas.”
The Allentown School District operates 22 schools and educates more than 16,000 students. According to the grant application, 83 percent of the student population is identified as economically disadvantaged, while 15 percent of the student population needs English as a Second language instruction and 18 percent needs special education instruction. In all, the district employs more than 50 principals and assistant principals, with promotions, retirements and resignations creating ongoing leadership needs.
“The REAL principal preparation program offers the Allentown School District the chance to address Strategic Area 5 of our Strategic Framework; Calibrating Leadership at All Levels, through our defined strategic action of creating a leadership development strategy," says ASD’s Scott Cole, executive director of elementary education.
“By partnering with Lehigh University, we will equip the next generation of district leadership with the authentic, robust experiences they need to lead schools in the dynamic fashion our school community deserves.”
In the 2019-2020 academic year, Lehigh will work with ASD in identifying three candidates who have finished or nearly finished their coursework for principal certification to participate in the program’s full-time residency. Two additional candidates will begin their principal preparation coursework at Lehigh this year, with their internships to follow in the next academic year.
The candidates will have ASD principal mentors who will receive a stipend and who are trained to facilitate the residency program at schools in the district. Participants also will take courses at Lehigh, with faculty providing instruction on research related to effective school leadership and feedback on their development. A Lehigh clinical supervisor will help coordinate residency and coursework assignments. Participants also will visit other schools in the region to observe how they meet their educational challenges.
In designing the program with an earlier $56,000 state grant, Hochbein and a planning team that included partners at ASD conducted a needs assessment, visited two principal residency programs at other universities and gathered additional information from surveys and focus groups with ASD parents, teachers, school leaders and district administrators.
The planning team identified several strengths in the part-time clinical experiences of traditional principal candidates who worked in ASD, including the administration’s willingness to provide them with learning opportunities and to help them find placements. But the planning team noted that the needs assessment identified several weaknesses in the process, including that the traditional part-time clinical experiences of principal candidates did not adequately prepare them to manage school leaders’ daily workloads. Also, many of the principal candidates had spent hours in low-level supervisory activities, such as lunch or bus duty, and an insufficient amount of time in student discipline referrals and Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meetings.
The REAL program, said Hochbein, is designed to make the internship experience “more purposeful” so that principal candidates get a better sense of what the job actually entails.
“We anticipate that eventual participation in the program will contribute to the development of outstanding school leaders who contribute to positive educational outcomes in Allentown,” said Hochbein. “We hope to be able to scale and replicate the program to involve more districts and participants.”