(The Center Square) — Officials with North Carolina State University’s Educational Leadership Academies presented an overview of their principal development program for lawmakers on Tuesday.
Members of the House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future heard from Bonnie Fusarelli, director of the N.C. State program, and Karen Anderson, a director of the program’s Wake Cohort on how they “develop excellent leaders for effective schools.”
Over the last decade, the program has produced 250 MSA fellows through $24 million in grants, with the two-year program providing a “contextualized MSA” and licensure for principals prepared to lead high-needs schools.
Data shows 90% of schools with principals from the program experience student growth, compared to about 75% in general, while attendance rates increase and suspensions decrease, Fusarelli said.
“Great schools have great leaders,” Fusarelli said. “That’s why we do what we do. Great leaders have a multiplying effect, especially when it comes to teachers. They have to do the hiring of the teachers, the evaluations of the teachers, so that multiplying effect matters. And we know the multiplying effect is even twice that in high-poverty schools.”
Anderson explained the program starts with rigorous recruitment and selection of candidates, and is different from others because of an “action pedagogy” that allows them to implement what they learn through “specialized training” that caters to their situation.
“We work specifically with our districts to ensure we’re personalizing the cohort experience for their district,” Anderson said. “So we personalize what we do for every cohort.”
That personalization is also “based on what’s happening around us at that time,” she said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.
“One of the things that makes our program extremely special is we don’t just have coursework,” Anderson said. “We also do what we call specialized trainings. And what that means is when something happens in time, we can provide a training that is specific to what’s happening around them.”
“This is one of the key pieces of our program that makes us different,” she said.
The N.C. State program also focuses on “breakthrough practices” that help future principals think through how to fundamentally change schools for the better, Fusarelli said.
The change comes from learning to assess factors of high-needs schools and ways to address them, through role playing, crisis prevention, mental health and restorative practices.
“We give them strategies to address these things,” Anderson said.
Students also get exposure to what works best through regular visits to “rock star schools,” conferences on education policy and issues like hunger, and support from mentors, coaches, and university faculty.
“They get to bring those ideas back to their community that might not be there,” Anderson said.
The program also tests students’ ability to implement what they learn, through a formative assessment day featuring real life situations, as well as a “problem of practice” project in the field, measured by qualitative and quantitative results.
“We have actors come in and do role playing with our students,” Anderson said. “Every semester we can make sure what we’re doing is working.”