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Commentary: A new addition to principal pipeline

Outgoing Denver principal Peter Sherman discusses a new program he designed for Get Smart Schools to groom potential new school leaders.

Last year I was fortunate to become a Get Smart Schools Fellow. I wasn’t the typical GSS Fellow in that I am an experienced school leader, but I was interested in the fellowship to expand my thinking about my school’s innovation status.
Being surrounded by other fellows who were designing and getting ready to open new schools was invigorating and sobering. Many GSS fellows and other colleagues have inspired visions and ideas for creating high-performing schools, while some had less experience and an unclear understanding of the many challenges found in the cross-section of public education in our communities.

Too often we underestimate the political, programmatic, financial, organizational and cultural complexities that vex school leaders every day. It became clear to me that, to have a fully-developed leadership pipeline for entrepreneurial and innovative school leaders, we need to begin identifying and preparing them sooner.

Get Smart Schools asked me to develop their Emerging Leaders Program for just this reason. This leadership pipeline has been occupied by a limited number of programs over the years and is now developing and providing many more opportunities to people interested in leading schools.

Such opportunities include: the GSS Fellowship, the Ritchie Program, licensure programs through the universities, and recently-created programs in DPS through Wallace and Dell foundations funding. Each of these programs leads to administrative licensing and residency experiences in schools.

Several local charter management organizations also have internal leadership development and preparation programs. The Emerging Leaders Program will create an intentional experience for educators who want to explore school leadership and who are early in their careers.

The program will be a valuable addition to the leadership pipeline for various reasons. School leadership is a rigorous and multi-faceted role, in the best of circumstances. Starting a new school, converting an old or engaging in formal turnaround efforts each require specific skill sets and qualities.

The Emerging Leaders Program will allow potential leaders to be exposed to and engage with existing leaders in the field in these varying contexts. It will provide participants with school-embedded projects and activities spanning the range of skills and competencies required in school leadership.

A critical success factor for potential school leaders is aligning their skills and qualities with the needs of a particular school. Formal turnaround schools, conversion schools, charters and start-ups each require different skill sets. Furthermore, each school has a unique context – geographical, demographic, programmatic, historical, each requiring different kinds of leadership and strengths.

The ELP will assess potential leaders’ strengths as well as allow them to self-assess their own interests and propensities. Often, participants in leadership programs start off with pre-conceived notions of what they want to do only to change those directions dramatically once they more fully understand the context of that vision. The ELP will better inform leaders before investing time and energy. Finally, the ELP will help bring potential leaders into networks of educators, exposing participants to potential mentors, resources, and employers.

I look forward to being engaged in leadership pathways over the next few years in our community as we identify, prepare, and support future school leaders to ensure their success in serving our children. It certainly will be applicable as I enter my new role at the Colorado Department of Education as executive director of school and district performance.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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