Academy not turning out good leaders

The city Department of Education has finally admitted that its Leadership Academy is not doing a good enough job of recruiting, developing and producing top-notch principals to lead New York City’s high-needs schools.

Launched in 2003, the program has tried to attract, cultivate and prepare enough qualified principals to take on the tough challenges of stabilizing and improving struggling schools with long histories of high student poverty, low academic achievement and rapid staff turnover. The Bloomberg administration said at the time that the step was necessary due to high levels of retirement by principals and the opening of many new schools, both of which have not abated since then.

Such an academy sounds good in theory. No one disputes the need for good school administrators. The city loses about 150 principals annually and needs far more than that to accommodate the opening of new schools.

But the problem with the academy — which is the problem with Bloomberg’s overall approach to education — is its premise that the most important credential for leading schools is management experience, not a background in education.

The DOE should not be recruiting non-educators or people with limited classroom experience and trying to fast-track them to run challenging schools. No amount of training, no matter how intense, can substitute for classroom experience. In such cases, new principals often end up feeling overwhelmed and too often blame hard-working teachers for their own shortcomings.

The DOE has apparently learned this lesson the hard way and is adopting strategies to improve the readiness of first-time principals. One initiative is a new Teacher Leadership Program that seeks to develop leadership skills in hundreds of teachers now working in the classroom. The DOE says the new programs and existing ones should produce 134 new principals this year.

We can only hope that this new approach will produce better results.

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