This guest blog series describes approaches that seek to address one of the most critical issues facing the rapidly growing public charter school movement: its leadership pipeline. The examples from Georgia and California show how partnerships have been developed to create training programs that teach the specific skills public charter school administrators need to run a successful school. If you would like to share additional examples of leadership pipeline programs, post them to @charteralliance or #charterleadership on Twitter.
For a number of years, the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) has anecdotally recognized a high turn over rate in its charters due to a number of factors—including governance issues and the heavy workload associated with running a multi-million dollar non-profit and a public school. In 2008, research from the University of Washington’s National Center for Charter School Research Project published data to validate GCSA’s concerns in their study, Working without a Safety Net by Christine Campbell and Bethany Gross. With the growth of the charter sector nationally and in Georgia, increasing the pipeline and retaining quality talent became a practical matter. The National Governor’s Association and others in the education research field, such as Robert Marzano, all agree that leadership is the second most influential factor in student achievement, next to the classroom teacher. This further emphasizes the importance of addressing leadership succession and capacity, and that is exactly what GCSA set out to do in late 2008.
When we decided to address leadership preparation and retention, it was a huge undertaking. Where do you start? We recognized that the issue with leadership turnover and quality in charters was rooted in inadequate skills and competencies to do the job. But to write curriculum for a training program, you really have to define first what a high quality charter school is and does. So the first step was to bring stakeholders together from our district authorizers and the State Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division to develop Quality School Standards. Out of these standards we were able to then identify the key competencies of a high quality leader and the training required to get them there.
Through a grant provided by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, we started with a 10-day intensive training program with 2 modules – business and leadership – and a strong mentor model from education and business backgrounds to support the leaders. The program pilot was a success. We realized, though, that while we could adequately train the leaders we had, we would never really move the bar in the sector toward a pipeline to meet demand and cross the bridge with the traditional public schools until we actually impacted training programs in the university system for a broader reach. So we set out to find a university partner who would be visionary enough to rethink educational leadership preparation.
In 2012, GCSA partnered with Kennesaw State University’s (KSU) Bagwell College of Education and Lake Oconee Academy (LOA), the partnership’s model school site, to offer an Education Specialist Master’s degree program. It leverages GCSA’s expertise in disseminating information to a statewide network of charter schools, teachers, and leaders and its knowledge and experience with quality schools and leadership; KSU’s strength as one of the largest educator preparation programs in Georgia; and LOA’s outstanding record of leadership and student achievement. This Ed.S. degree program focuses on charter-specific skills and competencies required for leading a high quality public charter school and replicates many of the award-winning charter school leadership practices of LOA, a Georgia Platinum School for Highest Academic Achievement in which approximately 75 percent of the students qualify for federal free or reduced-cost meals. Candidates selected for the Ed.S. program receive grant-funded scholarships for their four-semester graduate program.
Building on educational research in effective leadership, most of the program’s content, developed in collaboration between KSU and GCSA from its original CharterLeader pilot, is delivered in a residency model at each candidate’s “home” school site. There, they are required to demonstrate expertise through “real life” performance projects. Candidates from both charter and traditional backgrounds come together throughout the program at retreats to share best practices, and to collaborate and to meet with experts in the field. Throughout the program, candidates receive ongoing coaching from educators with expertise in leading and founding charter schools, as well as veteran leaders in the traditional and independent school sectors.
We are about half-way through our first cohort and ready to recruit for the second cohort. We are very excited about the progress we have made and the promise the CharterLeader program holds for the future growth and efficacy of the charter movement. There has been much learning along the way in establishing the program and the partnership. We look forward to sharing these learnings with our peers in the charter sector and to broaden the reach of our work.