On-the-job training program for Phila. principals to announce first group

LaTrina Stewart, acting assistant principal at Vaux High, is in the first class of the program . CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
LaTrina Stewart, acting assistant principal at Vaux High, is in the first class of the program . CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 13, 2013

Who wants to be a principal in Philadelphia?

Plenty of people, apparently - even amid a backdrop of budget cuts, school closings, and tough contract negotiations.

A new, on-the-job training program for Philadelphia public, charter, and parochial school leaders has selected its first crop of "transformational" principals, and is scheduled to be formally announced Friday. Officials have chosen five residents from a pool of 65 applicants and could choose up to 10 more educators to start in September, with a cohort of 30 expected next year and 50 in 2015.

It's called the Philadelphia Pathway to Leadership in Urban Schools (PhillyPLUS), and is a fledgling effort of the Great Schools Compact, a coalition of city, Philadelphia School District, charter, and parochial school officials. The residency was begun with $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $500,000 from the Philadelphia Schools Partnership, and will be supported by the educational nonprofit TNTP.

Unlike traditional candidates, those in PhillyPLUS do not need to have master's degrees or principal's credentials to apply, but must demonstrate strong instructional expertise and classroom achievement. They have to be good communicators, show "a certain determination, a productivity, a respect for everyone they encounter," said Miles Wilson, director of the Great Schools Compact.

And they'll have to produce. Though they will emerge with state administrative credentials at the end of the year, residents are not guaranteed principal jobs. If they are chosen, they are asked to remain in city administrator jobs for five years.

Those selected will undergo an intensive six-week summer training program, then be placed as assistant principals in city schools in September, working alongside strong mentor principals and given access to a wider support network in the first year and beyond.

LaTrina Stewart started her district career as a district secretary in 1995. After earning her bachelor's degree at night, she started work as a teacher in 1998, eventually earning her master's degree and working toward a doctoral degree.

Now a lead math teacher and acting assistant principal at Vaux High, Stewart, 43, is among the initial crop of PhillyPLUS residents.

She has long eyed a principal's position, but worried over developing the skills to do the job well.

"It doesn't seem like there's a lot of supports," said Stewart, a graduate of Bartram High School. "When you think about a law firm, they're not going to send in someone who just passed the bar exam to try a capital case. I think every kid we educate is just as important as a capital case."

Jessica Ramos said she is ready to make the leap from English teacher at Lea Elementary to district leader. She already holds a master's degree and principal certification.

"This is an excellent opportunity to get my feet wet as an assistant principal," said Ramos, 30, a seven-year veteran and Bodine High School graduate. "It's my personal mission to make a difference in the district."

Four of the five initial residents are district teachers; one works in a charter school. Their placements for next year have not been set, but district assistant superintendent Karen Kolsky said she expected at least some to work in public schools.

They won't bump existing principals, but will fill vacancies and will be regular members of the principals union, their salaries paid by the district.

The district maintains and has relationships with a number of existing and planned leadership development programs; strengthening the principals bench, long an issue, has been identified as a priority by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

"We're always looking to build this pipeline. We do need to find the best and the brightest leaders and teachers. This is one of a number of initiatives," said Kolsky, adding that the district had helped design this program and would benefit from the outside help.

Though some in local education circles are wary of the implications of accepting Gates Foundation money and fear that the Great Schools Compact could shortchange district schools, principals union chief Robert McGrogan said that if district spots open for PhillyPLUS residents - he's not certain there will be - he's on board.

"I welcome it with open arms," McGrogan said. "PhillyPLUS has the potential for administrators to get the kind of support they've needed for a long time."

Philadelphia's Chief Education Officer, Lori Shorr, chair of the Great Schools Compact committee, said she was "thrilled that there are this many people who want to take on this challenge. We have to make it worthwhile for people to want to be principals, and we have to understand the importance of supporting them."

Schools across all sectors struggle to attract enough strong principals, Shorr said.

"And it's good for people to see that the Great Schools Compact is working on things that are nuts and bolts," she said. "We're working on how to deal with persistent problems in urban education."


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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