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Training project targets principals

By John Published: June 10, 2011

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

Akron Public Schools announced a two-year training program for principals at eight schools whose low test scores haven't budged despite the usual remedies.

The University of Virginia's business and education schools developed the program to help principals, teachers and central office administrators make changes faster with less red tape.

Some of the eight schools selected for the program will get new principals, which means other schools will lose principals as the district reshuffles positions.

''We decided to go after the schools that basically have zero growth or very limited growth to try and get them to change that trajectory,'' Superintendent David James said Thursday.

The two-year cost will be $75,000 per school, which will be paid with federal grants for school improvement.

The eight schools are Crouse, Helen Arnold, McEbright, Robinson and Seiberling elementary schools, Innes and Jennings middle schools, and Kenmore High School.

Principals were interviewed by the district and staff from the University of Virginia and ranked to determine who will lead the eight schools.

Crouse, Helen Arnold, Innes and Jennings will keep their principals. Jennifer Lucas is leaving Sam Salem elementary to take over McEbright.

Charles Jones is leaving Findley elementary to run Robinson elementary.

The current principals at McEbright (David Brown) and Robinson (J. Craig Wendt) will replace retiring principals at Bettes and Pfeiffer, respectively.

Kathy Maddex, principal at Seiberling, will replace the retiring principal at Lawndale elementary.

A new principal for Seiberling elementary hasn't been chosen.

The district's first choice,
Larry Bender, couldn't take the job because of unavoidable scheduling conflicts with some of the required training, Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams said. He will remain Ritzman's principal.

That's good news for many parents of Ritzman elementary students. They were prepared to pack the next school board meeting, Monday night, to protest Bender's transfer.

The Kenmore High School principal's job is open because the current principal is retiring.

Buchtel High School, Akron Opportunity Center and Bridges Learning Center already are undergoing reforms announced last month and will keep their principals.

They will join the group of eight in a network of underperforming schools that will report directly to McWilliams, who is in charge of curriculum and instruction.

''We don't want them to have to work through multiple layers of decision-making and bureaucracy,'' McWilliams said. ''So I will be overseeing these schools and having a direct line of support to them.''

She said the district chose the eight schools because nothing else has worked for them. All but two of the 11 schools received one of the state's two lowest ratings: Academic Watch or Academic Emergency.

''Despite the typical strategies that we do for schools that are struggling, these schools aren't responding,'' McWilliams said. ''Other schools did. Other schools got back on track and kept moving forward.''

She said the training program is not only about principals.

The University of Virginia researchers discovered that even after principals learned better leadership skills and more effective uses for student data, they were still running into roadblocks from higher up.

''What they found is that the central office kept creating barriers and slowing down the progress of the buildings,'' McWilliams said.

Getting approval for a new approach to teaching children to read might take six months to a year. They might wait forever on approval to get creative with staffing.

The training focuses on how teachers, principals and downtown administrators can get things done faster.

McWilliams said she also was encouraged by the results the program has gotten in the Cincinnati school district.

Cincinnati completed the first year of the program last summer and 13 of the 16 schools showed measurable improvement. Five that were rated in Academic Emergency Ohio's lowest jumped two steps on state report cards.

That helped Cincinnati become the first big urban district in Ohio to get an Effective rating last year, a goal Akron had long hoped to achieve.

''It's been a hugely beneficial program,'' said Dawn Grady, the district's marketing and community relations manager. ''You've seen just an entire culture shift among the principals who have been a part of this program, in terms of how they work with each other, in terms of how they work with their staff.''


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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