The NYC Leadership Academy’s West Michigan Leadership Academy held its kick-off sessions last week. Twenty-one school leaders from four school districts across Kent County attended the three-day intensive focusing on equity, leading transformation, and communicating vision. The program, developed in partnership with the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation, aims to improve student outcomes in schools in Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, Godwin Heights, and Godfrey-Lee by building leaders’ capacity to identify and address achievement gaps and other inequities.

During last week’s sessions, the first of 10 for the 2018-19 school year, fellows participated in a series of activities reflecting on their life experiences and how they have shaped their understanding of racial bias and equity. They then began their major project for the year – identifying and tackling a problem of practice in their school. They examined their schools’ data and discussed possible root causes of those outcomes, identified potential challenges related to the problem of practice, and began developing a plan for addressing the problem. Fellows gave each other feedback on their problems and plans, a key piece of the professional learning.

For Principal Christopher Hanks of the Grand Rapids Museum School, a root cause analysis of his school’s data was a critical first step for addressing inequity at his school. “When we just narrow our focus to final outcomes, we don’t always think about the way things are connected and our direct impacts, which are so important,” said Hanks, noting that he looks forward to having a leadership coach to support him in this work.

Added Assistant Principal Jacquie Harris of Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood, “We looked at what we wanted to see by the end of the year and how we are going to get there… I am really excited to have these conversations about equity with my full staff because we have to continue to promote change and do so through the lens of equity.”

The West Michigan Leadership Academy intends to support more than 120 leaders over its first five years through a cross-district professional learning network and one-on-one leadership coaching for annual cohorts of fellows. The program will equip leaders with the skills to manage and develop solutions for some of their districts’ biggest challenges, from principal turnover to significant disparities in student outcomes. School leaders will participate in a series of workshops and learning experiences that will support them in developing a vision for equity and a plan for making and monitoring progress toward that vision, including staff and community roles in implementation. They will also engage in targeted sessions on communication, distributive leadership, data fluency and application, equitable practice, and assessing progress and impact, and work one-on-one with a leadership coach for the duration of their participation.

Representatives from both foundations sit on the advisory board that will provide program oversight and direction, along with leaders from Kent Intermediate School District and the five participating local school districts: Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Godwin Heights Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, and Wyoming Public Schools.

About NYC Leadership Academy

NYC Leadership Academy is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that builds the capacity of educational leaders, at every level of the system, to confront inequities and create the conditions necessary for all students to thrive. Since 2003, NYCLA has worked with educators in more than in 185 school systems across 32 states and Washington, D.C.