Although there are other privately funded public school reform efforts in the U.S. focusing on the linkage between principal leadership and student achievement, the New York initiative stands out, and not only for the financial support it is getting from the business community. What also makes the Leadership Academy singular is how it is building on the success of a highly lauded instruction and professional development program started in the 1980s by a handful of New York City school districts, and combining this experience with expertise gleaned from corporate leadership training. Indeed, the Leadership Academy is emerging as a model for how a public bureaucracy can adopt proven leadership training methods from business and combine them with best practices in education instruction.
In addition to recruiting Jack Welch as a board member and instructor, the academy has enlisted the noted business leadership teacher and consultant Noel M. Tichy. Dr. Tichy, currently director of the Global Leadership program at the University of Michigan Graduate School of Business, was GE’s manager of management education from 1985 to 1987 and one of the primary developers of the highly regarded GE Leadership Development Center (which is now called the John F. Welch Leadership Center) in Crotonville, N.Y. (See “Noel M. Tichy: The Thought Leader Interview,” by Randall Rothenberg, s+b, Spring 2003.)
By borrowing the best leadership training methods from companies like GE, the academy is trying to bridge an important gap in the way principals have traditionally been trained and certified — a gap that education experts say divorces principals’ training from the realities of public school life. School performance has suffered as a result of the “gulf between administrative training programs and the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary for successful practice,” write Ms. Stein and Liz Gewirtzman, a lecturer at Baruch College, in their book Principal Training on the Ground: Ensuring Highly Qualified Leadership (Heinemann, 2003).
Much as Crotonville emphasizes real-life job challenges in teaching management techniques like Six Sigma, the academy frames its instruction around a school principal’s real challenges in such areas as team building, communications, and time management. And much as Crotonville training communicates core GE values and strategies to its management ranks, the academy is trying to imbue in its up-and-coming school leaders a deep understanding of the core values and strategic objectives underpinning the desired teaching methods and management.
The academy’s ultimate goal, however, is bigger than training principals to be more capable administrators and better teachers. Its mission is to create the leadership momentum that will transform the quality of educational instruction in the school system as a whole. The academy wants to equip its principals to be energetic change agents who elevate public school standards and expectations, motivate teachers, implement curriculum changes, and make lasting improvements in the classroom learning environment — a strategy endorsed by its business partners.
“Our business leaders feel that the quality of school leadership is crucial to the success of the schools,” says Ms. Wylde of the Partnership for New York City.
A Systemic Solution
The New York City school system’s problems are formidable. The schools are so underfunded that the state legislature is under a court order to increase financial support. Budgetary constraints cause severe classroom overcrowding and a chronic shortage of teaching supplies. Successive waves of non-English-speaking immigrants entering the school system have created language barriers that are taxing to teachers and other students. And the large, factorylike high schools established at the beginning of the 20th century are considered neither rigorous nor flexible enough to train the knowledge workers needed by today’s employers.
For years, the partnership had wrestled with the question of how best to support school reform. With other business organizations, it had provided funding for disparate projects, which helped pieces of the school system. From 1999 to 2002, the partnership partially financed a pilot program in the Bronx known as Breakthrough for Learning, which used such private-sector practices as signing bonuses and pay for performance to recruit better principals and teachers. Although many of these individual programs improved school performance in specific districts, the partnership was looking for a broader, systemwide solution for New York City schools.