Several years ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in North Carolina determined that having high-quality leadership for each of its approximately 160 schools needed to be a core component of the district’s school improvement strategy.

“A principal determines the mission of a school and the culture within the building. He or she is ultimately responsible for creating an effective learning environment for all students – and an effective working environment for the adults charged with making sure that learning happens,” says Ann Clark, CMS Deputy Superintendent. “We knew that having an outstanding leader in each of our schools was an important step toward our goal of outstanding learning opportunities for each of our students.”

Recognized nationally for its leadership pipeline work by both the Wallace Foundation and the George W. Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL), CMS is a bright example of how a district can proactively partner with higher education to make sure school leadership preparation programs are actually producing effective leaders. Initially, the district focused on “strategic staffing,” which placed school leaders identified as particularly effective in the district’s highest-needs schools. While this brought much-needed focus and leadership talent to struggling schools, district officials realized they also needed to build the system’s leadership bench if they were going to be able to consistently staff each school with a highly effective leader.

And so the district embarked on a series of activities intended to build this bench of effective school leaders. The district implemented a Talent Pool for principals and assistant principals, which requires aspiring school leaders to be admitted to the Talent Pool – through an application and interview process – before they can be considered for a principal or assistant principal position. CMS leaders also began to work more closely with the local universities that typically train aspiring CMS school leaders, in order to ensure that graduates of these education leadership programs are qualified to enter the Talent Pool and ready to be effective in school leadership roles.

The CMS focus on its leadership pipeline prompted Queens University of Charlotte to introduce a new principal preparation program. The School Executive Leadership Academy (SELA) is an innovative partnership between the university’s schools of business and education. Modeled in part on the NYC Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principals Program, SELA is a selective, cohort-based program that emphasizes experiential learning and includes a five-week summer intensive that NYC Leadership Academy helped SELA design and a full-year residency experience.

A newer school leadership preparation initiative at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) focuses on preparing leaders for high schools, a specific area of need that CMS has identified. CMS asked NYC Leadership Academy to work with UNCC and the district to help design and launch a rigorous, standards-based program that will help ensure a strong bench of qualified school leaders for the district’s secondary schools. This program’s first cohort launched with intensive training this past summer, and is now engaged in a year-long residency.

“Ensuring that we can source the highest quality school leaders has taken time and effort,” notes Clark. “But we’ve been able to build stronger relationships with our university partners and introduce innovation through partners like NYC Leadership Academy. And we are already seeing the payoff in terms of test scores and student learning.”

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