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A principal talking to a class of his peers.

A Principals' Academy class in session. The professional development program for public and nonpublic K12 school administrators runs over the course of a year.

Win-win for principals

University of Minnesota offers new professional development program for school principals

By Pauline Oo

From eNews, December 6, 2007

If Jeanne Swanson wants to make the 8:30 a.m. Principals' Academy roll call, she has to catch the sunrise in her car. The Waseca High School principal, who faces an almost two-hour drive from southern Minnesota to the Twin Cities, is one of 24 participants in the University of Minnesota's new professional development program for public and nonpublic K12 school administrators.

"As principals we need to know educational standards and all the [classroom] content areas so we can support or help give direction to the teachers in our building," says Swanson, a principal for 14 years (seven as assistant principal). "There are things we're learning here [at the Principals' Academy] that we didn't even know about."

Swanson and her colleagues meet twice a month at the Minnesota Department of Education in Roseville. They represent only the second group of participants; the U launched the academy in September 2006. Representatives from the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) trained the first batch of 48 Minnesota principals and school leaders, and beginning June 2007, teams of graduates from that group (a.k.a. the Leadership Team) now serve as curriculum facilitators. The academy, offered to principals and school districts at no cost--thanks to a legislative appropriation passed with bipartisan support--is the result of a partnership among the U, the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association, and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.

"We all came together to build a program to support our principals and other school leaders because nothing makes a high-performing school like a high-performing principal," says Kent Pekel, executive director of the University of Minnesota's Consortium for Post-Secondary Success--the office that coordinates the academy.

A principal's job is an extraordinary mix of small details and big ideas, of crisis management and long-range planning. "Our work doesn't stop," says Mary Donaldson, director of Concordia Creative Learning Academy in St. Paul. "We're on the go from 6 a.m. to midnight."

The Principals Academy curriculum is adapted specifically for Minnesota principals and school leaders from a NISL-designed program that's firmly rooted in leadership best practices from education, business, the military, and other fields. The program is also being used in other states, such as Massachusetts, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Participants are kept abreast of the latest developments in K12 education, as well as challenged to examine their leadership style and confront prevailing stereotypes about being a principal through a combination of face-to-face instruction, at-home readings, and study groups with interactive Web-based learning.

"When you get 20-25 professionals together, it's a win-win situation," says Jason Ulbrich, educational director for Stride Academy in St. Cloud. "Good ideas come up as a group, and they come up on the fly. Each of us has 100 ideas--so there is a lot of sharing that happens."

Ulbrich adds that the networking is also a plus. "Let me give you an example," he says, "I wanted to implement a standards-based report card and I sent an e-mail to everyone [in my program] asking if they would send me their sample. Within 24 hours I got 10 report cards. Where else can I get that much information?"

To learn more about the Principals' Academy and to watch a clip of the KSTP-Channel 5 news story, see