Field Trip: Resident Principals


It’s no secret: principals are vital to the success of a school. But what’s the best way to train those who want to step into that role? In the last few years, more schools have looked to a clinical residency training model that gives principals-in-training on-the-job experience.

This week, we speak with Jackie Gran, Chief Policy and Evaluation Officer at New Leaders, an organization that works to prepare education leaders to make an impact in some of the highest-need schools in America. Their Aspiring Principals program provides opportunities for principals-in-training to work in schools alongside mentor principals for an entire year, much like a medical residency does for doctors.

We’re also joined by Crystal Harden-Lindsey, Executive Director of Green Street Academy in Baltimore, MD, and graduate of the New Leaders Aspiring Principals program. We ask Crystal and Jackie about this residency training model, what principals and teachers say about it, and what school districts can learn as they develop the principals and leaders of tomorrow.

Full Transcript  

JACKIE GRAN: Part of being a great teacher involves just loving working with kids and part of being a great principal means that you wake up every day loving working with adults because what your job is, is to help support adults improve their practice.

Welcome to Field Trip. You’re in the right place for stories for — and about — leaders in K-12 education. We look at creative problem-solving. New ideas. Or maybe they’re familiar ideas, applied in new and innovative ways.­­­­­

We know that outstanding school leaders attract and retain great educators and that 97% of teachers list principal quality as critical to their retention and career decisions, which is more than any other factors.

Each episode, we speak with a leader in K-12 with a story to tell about impacting education. It may be through attracting, hiring, retaining, or developing great teachers and staff – or all of the above.

From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.

Today our conversation is all about a unique and immersive method of training principals for the job. Here’s our first guest, Jackie Gran.

JACKIE GRAN: Hi, My name’s Jackie Gran. I’m the Chief Policy and Evaluation Officer at New Leaders. New Leaders is a non-profit organization and our mission is around ensuring high academic achievement for all children, especially students in poverty and students of color.

They do this, Jackie said, by working to develop transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great leaders to succeed.

JACKIE GRAN: I know our conversation today is going to be focused specifically on how we train Aspiring Principals and that where we started our work.

It is also important that we provide training to our sitting principals, to our principal supervisors and to the teacher-leaders who may or may not be future principals. So, our work has really expanded over the past few years as more and more districts and states have seen the importance of building the leadership capacity in the schools and school districts.

Let’s dive into that a little bit more Jackie. Why the focus on developing principals? Why is this such an important thing to do?

JACKIE GRAN: We could start with the research, because the research is really clear on this. More than a decade of research shows that a well-prepared and well-supported principal will have a huge influence on teacher practice and student success, that school leaders actually account for 25% of a school’s impact on student learning and an above average principal can improve student achievement by 20 percentage points.

With that said, there’s actually just something more fundamental about this that I think everyone can get at a gut level. If you love your boss, it really makes the difference in how you do your job. We know that outstanding school leaders attract and retain great educators and that 97% of teachers list principal quality as critical to their retention and career decisions, which is more than any other factors.

I think people get that. When you come into work, if you feel supported, encouraged and pushed in really good and positive ways, it’s going to make a difference in how much you feel successful in your role and the success you’ll actually be able to bring to the kids in your classroom.

Can you talk at all about the gap in how principals and leaders are trained for their jobs? I know that you have said that superintendents note that maybe a lot of people have a license for the role, but aren’t really prepared for the job. What is it that you’re trying to do to develop principals and prepare them for the job that they’re going to hold?

JACKIE GRAN: We have a really strange system, currently, in many, many systems across the country. I’ll give you a personal example.

Both of my parents are educators. My mom served for 40 years as a guidance counselor. She loved being a guidance counselor. The only possible way she could get a pay raise in the school system she worked in is to get her administrators license. 

As a kid, I remember every week she drove out to a night class at a university to sit in a class to get trained in a skillset that she never actually planned on using for her career as a guidance counselor. She got trained as an administrator, she got her admin license. At least she got about three credits to it, and that’s how she could progress the step in career ladder in her work.

When we think about that being a method, putting lots of people together in classes who may or may not actually want to be an administrator, that doesn’t really recognize what the critical role of the principal is. My mom was a fabulous guidance counselor, and she didn’t want to be a principal. And that’s okay, but there should be other ways for educators, whether you’re a guidance counselor, teacher, or teacher-leader, to be able to grow in your role that’s specific to that role and that job, for people who want to become principals to get the specific training that they need to become a successful principal in the school.

So, when we think about principal training, we’re not so interested in, “Can you write a paper describing to us what you would do to move a team of teachers to better instructional practice?” We want to see it.

New Leaders developed a clinical training model that looks a lot like a medical residency. Principals-in-training work alongside existing school leaders for an entire year to actually learn and practice new skills on the job. To practice them, to get better at them, to practice them again to reflect more, to practice again so that by the end of the year we can really observe mastery of practice before we can then endorse someone and say to a school system, “This person is ready for this job.

I know the alumni from New Leaders overwhelmingly work with America’s highest-need students. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. And then, what are some of the particular needs that these schools have that might not be obvious to folks?

JACKIE GRAN: When our organization started, we looked across the country and saw that there would be places in the country where there’d be many, many schools that were failing. But among these areas of severe failure, you might find one school that’s really figured out how to make it work and how to really do right by students and without question, each of those schools had a great principal at the helm.

Now, the principalship is not a silver bullet. It’s not that this one person, operating alone, having it all on their shoulders, is a systemic solution for our entire nation’s schools. But it also speaks to the importance of that role, and how when you have someone who’s well prepared and able to mobilize the resources within the community in support of excellence for kids, that they can really make good things happen.

What we’ve seen is that you need a well-prepared, well-supported leader, especially a leader who’s trained to understand and relate a strong, distributive leadership model, so that it’s not just them coming in as the autocrat, but figuring out how to build strong teams of teachers to lead great instruction across the school.

What I will say is, as a nation I think we really need to rethink our concept of equity. Many of the conversations that are happening across the country often stop at our schools getting equal funding. That might be equal to a certain point if we could even get there, but that’s not equity.

We need to look at, “What does a particular student population need in order to get great outcomes?” Then we need to figure out how to get that. And that’s not just one thing: it is great educators, it is also additional funds. It is also important resources, whether after-school programs or additional access to different kinds of resources like that. That resource equity needs to be thinking both about money, people, time and all the other things that we can say we get there when we see that the outcomes are there.

Understanding that principals play an enormous role in schools, I asked Jackie to give me some more details about the clinical training program they developed for aspiring principals.

JACKIE GRAN: So many of our education training models tend to rely on delivery of a curriculum, which people read, reflect and reflect on. But, they don’t always allow for the kind of deep practice it takes to really build a skill.

It’s interesting, there’s a lot of theory around adult learning that we can see it’s true for kids as well. You can teach some folks and you can read things, but if you don’t actually have the opportunity to practice and do, it doesn’t stick in quite the same way. So, our clinical residency model is really about giving adults the opportunity to try stuff out in safer space.

During your residency you can try things out and build your leadership voice in a way that if you wrote a whole bunch of papers and then walked in the door as a principal, you wouldn’t have exercised those muscles in the same way and you might not … It’s always scary walking in that first day, but I think it’d be a whole lot scarier if you hadn’t had that opportunity to practice. I should say that it’s good to see that principal preparation is moving in the direction of deeper training models.

For years and years there have been internships where future principals might have six weeks in a school or even a couple months in a school. Having a full year’s cycle where you spend the vast majority, over 80% of your time, in the school doing the work is the only way that we can feel confident knowing that you’ve built those skills and practiced those skills, and that we can say, “Yes, you’re ready for this.” That gives people the depth of experience beyond what tends to be more observational if you’re only in a school for a couple of weeks.

Give me the nuts and bolts a little bit. You’re saying that a principal or a principal in training would come into a school, spend a full year there under a mentor? Is that what we’re looking at?

JACKIE GRAN: That’s exactly right. The way our program is set up is, once you make it through our admissions process. You have an intense summer training in the district that you’re working in. During that summer training, you are getting all the foundational pieces of the work. We codify our vision of what we think principals need to be successful in what we call the Transformational Leadership Framework, which you can find on our website.

The Transformational Leadership Framework has the five domains that we think principals need to excel in: learning and teaching, culture, talent management, planning and operations, and personal leadership skills. So we give them that foundation over the summer, and then they move into a medical style residency during the school year, where they spend 80% to 90% of their time in the school as a resident principal reporting to the principal of the school who serves as the mentor principal.

And they’re responsible for real work during that school year. They identify several projects including leading teacher teams and setting goals around instructional improvement, around building the school culture and other types of projects like that. Then, during the course of the year, they meet as a group with their cohort one to two times per month to reground themselves, build and scaffold on that foundational training they got over the summer, as well as to wrestle with problems of practice they’re dealing with in the schools they’re serving in.

Jackie said that over the course of the year, principals in training are assessed on their progress, given additional support where needed. And when the program is complete, New Leaders looks at how they’ve met their goals, and can certify them as principals or work with their particular state to get them certification.

I asked Jackie, what’s been the reaction? What have principals who came through the process said about their experience? She said the first thing that comes to mind came not from a principal, but from a teacher. This teacher had worked alongside a principal-in-training named David O’Hara, in Brooklyn, New York.

JACKIE GRAN: She looked at me and she said, “Working for David and being in this school, working for the kids in the school under David’s leadership, this is the first time I’ve loved my job as a teacher.”

That just said so much to me, especially knowing what progress David’s school made in moving from a school where, when he got there, most of the kids were not on track to graduate. Over the course of his tenure there, they really turned the school around. That just said so much to me about the potential of school leadership.

Another thing that really stuck with me is the number of principals that have come through our program who already had their principal license, but knew that they weren’t ready. They came to us they said, “Technically I could apply for a job to be a principal and be hired, but I’m in this because I want to do it well and I just don’t feel like I’m there yet and I need this training to get better.”

The one other thing I just want to flag is, over the course of this work, we’ve learned that that year of clinical residency is so important, but there’s more that we can do. Just as we expect principals to be people who learn, adjust and grow, as an organization we’ve had to do that, too. Part of those adjustments include changing our admissions process so that we can spend more time working with teacher-leaders to build those skills, to get them ready to be Aspiring Principals.

And also, figuring out how we can do a better job of, after someone completes the residency, what kind of support we can provide for them at the point at which they move into the principal role.

I’m glad you brought up the admissions process, because I wanted to ask you how you find candidates for principal and how that relates to teacher-leadership. Maybe the question that I want to ask here is, as districts are looking to fill their principal pipelines, what are the sorts of qualities do you find in people who make the most effective principals?

JACKIE GRAN: One of our new leaders said it best: “Part of being a great teacher involves just loving working with kids, and part of being a great principal means that you wake up every day loving working with adults.” Because what your job is, is to help support adults improve their practice. And so, there are a couple of skills that we look for.

Fundamentally, we’re looking for people who believe that all kids can achieve at high levels, because we’re not in this for people to go into schools and create places where people are happy, but not much change is happening on behalf of kids. We’re looking for people who can strike that right balance between driving with such a sense of urgency that’s needed, so that we can get much, much better outcomes for the kids that we’re serving while also inspiring, supporting and scaffolding the adults in the building to work together as a team rowing in the same direction towards that vision.

And so, through our admissions process, we’re looking for that belief in kids. We’re looking for people who understand good instruction, because we think that you need to have fundamentally been able to do that as a teacher — if, as a principal, you’re the instructional leader, which we believe you are, you need to have really been a successful teacher in order to move into the principalship.

Then also, we look for folks who can coach and inspire people to do the hard work of improving their practice. If as a teacher-leader you can move the practice of the adults around you without that formal authority, it’s a pretty good sign that as a principal, you’ll be able to do that as well.

Along with Jackie, joining us today is Crystal Harden-Lindsey, who is the Executive Director at Green Street Academy in Baltimore and previously served as the principal there as well. As principal, Crystal’s students consistently outperformed their peers in both reading and math growth. Most recently, the percentage of her students meeting or exceeding college and career-readiness standards has doubled. She came up through the New Leaders Aspiring Principals program. Crystal talk to me, how did you begin this journey, and what drew you to being a principal in the first place?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: It was an amazing journey. I was a teacher for nine years and my new principal, she had been a principal for two years. She came to me and she said, “You know Crystal, I see leadership skills within you, and I think you would be an amazing principal.”

At that time, if I could be really honest, I hadn’t thought about being a principal at all. I thought how I could use data to drive instruction, I did a lot of work with training teachers on the data-driven practices. She actually took me out of the classroom and made me an instructional lead teacher.

I had the opportunity to go into different classrooms and teach classes, train teachers and that was the start to my leadership trajectory. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I applied to New Leaders and I said, “You know, this process is really rigorous, and I probably won’t be accepted because I don’t know enough yet.” My principal was so confident in my skills and the fact that New Leaders offered so much professional development that I would have adequate training to run any inner city school.

Tell me a little bit about Green Street Academy. I’d love to get a picture of the kind of area that it’s in and what the school is like.

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: Green Street Academy is a shining star in West Baltimore, located, I would say, in deep West Baltimore. If you go about five minutes up, you’ll hit the county line. We have the highest crime rate in Baltimore City right now. We are in a building that was shut down because they couldn’t afford to keep it up, but it’s a very historical building for Baltimore. Elijah Cummings graduated from this building, William Donald Schaefer graduated from this actual building.

About three years ago, we moved from West Baltimore Middle, which is another school building owned by the city, to our own building, which is right here in the middle of the community that we serve.

Tell me about this clinical training model. It sounds like it’s jumping into the deep end of the pool where all of a sudden you’re in a school working underneath a mentor principal. Tell me about your first day.

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: My first day was pretty brutal, I must be honest. My mentor principal had been a principal and worked with New Leaders for the last, I would say, 10 years when I started, but had been a principal for about 25 years. He was very, very adamant about the work. He had a laser focus on student achievement, but he was not afraid to do what I would describe as jobs that you don’t see a principal do day-to-day and he wanted me to embody that.

Not only that, he was a principal of a brand new middle school. This middle school had been previously closed down due to violence and he had the courage to say, “Hey, I want to rebuild this school in the same community and change the culture of the school.” So, I was in for a huge surprise when I came in on my very first day. He was painting. He wasn’t looking at data, reading a book or doing professional development, he was painting a wall.

He said to me, “Get your stuff together so that you can help me paint.” That was my very first day. It taught me how unconventional the work was going to be, and the very first day of school, I’m dressed in a suit, and he told me to get a paintbrush. And I did just that. 

He actually created a succession plan for himself, which included me taking over as the principal.

I would love your perspective, Crystal, on some of these high-need schools that we have in our country. You might have a picture of what some of their particular needs are that might not be obvious to people who aren’t in that kind of scenario. Can you speak to that at all?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: Absolutely. I think if you just thought on the humanistic side, we are asking our most at-risk students to come to school without their basic needs being met, perform at really high levels, be compared to their counterparts that in some cases are very affluent, who come from affluent homes, and still do meet those standards and overcome adversity. Even though you may not have a teacher, you may not have adequate facilities, you may be hungry, but you are still expected to meet the standard in each and every category.

And in some cases, if you really want to be successful, you need to exceed the standards given so many deficits. When I talk about deficits, I’m talking about from a generational standpoint. Some of these schools have been underserved schools for 30-plus years. Those families are experiencing a lot of hurt, they didn’t trust the school system and in some cases, the school system has had an adverse impact on who they are as adults.

Sometimes schools can come off, if they were failing schools, as just a remnant of failure, and so people make that connection. So, school leaders have the work to do to change communities, not just schools.

It sounds like these are environments where leaders of the best stripe are needed more than ever. I know that that’s what this principal training is all about, trying to equip these leaders. As you went through this clinical training, what would you say did you get out of it personally? What would be some of the primary benefits that you got out of it that maybe traditional leadership training might not offer?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: The number one takeaway for me, it was by far the best professional development that I’ve had to date.

The first thing that I would say is extremely important is working on the personal leadership component, working on the leader’s mindset and getting prepared to take on an obstacle that you may not know is coming. New Leaders did a lot of work around being culturally competent and how you build your own leadership muscle. Also, being emotionally intelligent.

Those aspects of training are not typical for the principalship, but they’re essential when you’re working in high-needs areas, as well as working with underserved communities or marginalized children. And so we have to be very conscious about interactions day-to-day and take nothing for granted. That is something that is not taught typically with educational leadership classes or training.

Were there any surprises that you faced in this training, or things you really didn’t expect?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: The biggest surprise was not recognizing or knowing the importance of identifying my own biases as I go into the leadership world and serve communities that have been underserved, or they feel like the generational curses within the education system have plagued their family for years and they have no reason to believe anymore.

Putting my own biases aside about what I believe about the education system, but being open to listening. Not to respond, but listening just to understand that perspective so that I can create the best student experience and family partnership that I possibly can as a school leader.

How did your training set you up for success at Green Street? Can you tell any specific stories?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: I would say the number one story that actually comes to mind is a day where our kids … At one point when I became principal initially, we only had sixth and seventh grade. Right now I serve grades six through 12. It was one of the times where I was working to get the community’s buy-in to grow into a high school. A parent came in and she was very, very happy with her child’s experience in middle school. But she had a lot of questions and concerns about going into a high school. She expressed her sentiments around what happens in high schools in Baltimore. She felt like, “Those high schools, we know that those high schools will fail if they’re not the elitest high schools,” that they could not get teachers to teach in the high schools that are in this actual area due to the commute and what was happening in the community.

She wanted to know what I was going to do. I instantly thought about New Leaders, because the New Leaders training teaches you that there will be times that you have to think on your toes, but the art of being authentic and saying, “I’m going to work with you to find a solution,” is something invaluable. So, instead of standing in front of this group of people who are really agitated with the fact that now we’re going to expand, being willing to be vulnerable and say, “Hey, I’m, willing to work with you on solutions,” was one of the most telling times for me.

It was a time where I felt like they were pushing me against the wall, but my training automatically kicked in, and I didn’t assume that I knew what the answers were. But, I did say, “I will partner with you to figure out solutions.”

Are there any other ways in which you feel uniquely prepared to lead at Green Street, specifically as a result of this clinical residency model of training? Are there really specific ways in which you can say, “Because I was in this residency model, I was prepared to lead in this circumstance that I might’ve not been otherwise”?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: I would definitely say that the New Leaders community provided me with a unique landscape where I have a network of cheerleaders, as well as accountability partners. I think just knowing that I can call in minutes and say, “Hey, I’m having this problem or this happened.” I could have a drove of leaders show up at my school to do anything I want them to do.

We were one of the schools plagued by the uprisings in Baltimore. We are located about five minutes away from the Freddie Gray area. A lot of my kids live by where the uprisings took place. During that time where the country and our city were under unrest. I picked the phone up and I had 10 people here in a matter of minutes.

New Leaders prepared me to understand that there was a certain mindset that I had to take on at that time where I could not falter under pressure. I had to lean into being uncomfortable in order to get the results that my kids needed, which was to feel safe. That is one of my biggest takeaways. What I’m most thankful about is just the ability to be able to pick up the phone and feel supported at any time.

That’s great. Jackie, I want to turn back to you for a few minutes and ask, as you look at the work that you’ve done, that New Leaders has done, what would you say your biggest takeaways are? What have you learned about developing, preparing and supporting effective school leaders as a result of this work?

JACKIE GRAN: Absolutely. I think the first is that authentic practice is key ,and we talked about why. But, leaders who get results really need the opportunity for practice. We also think it’s important to focus on the most important skills that principals need to be great leaders of schools. They need to have instructional leadership skills, they need to know how to manage the talent in the building, and they need to create a great place for both students and teachers to work, learn and grow.

There’s so much on a principal’s plate. I heard a story from one New Leader principal who said, “My training was great, but the first day of school I walked in and we had a power outage, and I actually hadn’t been trained in the work of fixing the electricity in a building.” Obviously that’s not part of principal training, but the training to what Crystal was speaking about of, “This is an unexpected problem, how do I move forward and how do I not get stuck?” was key.

I would say a couple of other key lessons are that districts could do so well to focus on identifying and cultivating educators that are currently underrepresented in the leadership field. When I think about how districts can improve their practice, we really see an incredible opportunity: by strengthening and diversifying the leaders in the system, it does so much for kids and so much for schools. We need to make sure that we’re not overlooking the potential of the teachers and the educators that are within the building and could be ready to be incredible leaders with some support and some training.

The other piece that I would say is that alignment is really critical. We’ve talked so much about the role of the principal today. Where strong leadership practices are consistent and tailored for the specific roles people have; so teacher-leader, principal, principal-supervisor, that alignment can really amplify an investment in leadership.

Can you imagine a world in which a teacher, a principal and the principal-supervisor all had a shared view of what academic rigor looks like, and were working in the same direction, towards, “We are on the same team together and this is the direction we’re moving in”?

One of the things that we’ve also seen is that, while for us it’s all about kids, we also understand the districts and states are often in a budgetary crisis. The National Governors Association put out a report of something that we’ve seen to be true, which is that there’s a really strong return on investment in leaders. Because, if you invest in one principal, you’re actually also investing in the 20-plus teachers and the 500-plus students that he or she on average is supporting.

So, we both know that as districts are wrestling with these questions, in an ideal world they’ll be able to think really thoughtfully about a long-term, strategic vision through the whole leadership pipeline. How are they supporting their leaders, teacher-leaders, principals and principal-supervisors in a smart, coherent way? We also know that building that leadership capacity, both by investing directly in principals and investing in leadership more generally, has ripple effects for all of the educators that those leaders reach.

Jackie, can you tell me a little bit about what some of the barriers to such job-embedded training or this residency model might be? What are the things that keep people from doing this work that seems like it’s a no-brainer?

JACKIE GRAN: There are a few challenges to this work. First, it’s a long-term investment. You need to build your pipeline, train, match to the right school and then enable a principal to be in the school for a few years to really make those changes. So, the district needs to have a strategic vision that includes leadership as a long-term part of the success for their community.

And of course, money is always a challenge. A full-time residency often involves creating an additional role within a school. Some districts address that by trying to use the vacancies in assistant principal positions to make that possible, but money certainly can be a challenge.

I would also say that there’s a challenge around finding that right residency match. We’re looking to have residents learn in schools that aren’t maintaining excellence, but are actually building and creating excellence. Taking a struggling school and turning it into a great one so that they can see that practice, they can be part of that practice. It’s really important to us that when we’re working with district partners, that we’re able to find that right residency placement where people can be learning and growing and practicing in the kinds of schools that they will eventually be leading.

My last question is for both of you and I realize there have been some answers to this along the way, but let me ask it again: how can school systems support strong leadership practices? Are there any easily actionable steps that district and school leaders can take across the country?

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: I think the number one thing to support leadership in your school is to have an effective plan. People feel more secure and they’re more apt to follow you if you have a plan and you include them on the plan. Maybe even a calendar of events that says, “Hey, you should do this by this time, you should do that by that time,” so it creates a collaboration platform for principals.

Principals being able to collaborate with other principals that do the same job, in the same area, in the same grade levels will be amazing as just a start, providing some consistency across schools so that we can better prepare the kids in Baltimore.  

JACKIE GRAN: When we think about where districts can start this work, we often think about starting with defining a strong and coherent vision of what effective leadership is. And, thinking about the wide ranges of educators in the district from teacher-leaders to principals and their supervisors.

Once you have that vision, you can start small if you need to. For example, your data may tell you that there are a number of principal vacancies coming up, but you’re not ready to start in a place where you’re going to have principal residencies for 20. You need to come up with a strategy that will enable you to fill the principal vacancies that you have, because that’s the responsibility of the district and it might have you starting with a mixture of immediate recruitment balanced with pipeline building over time.

We also have found, in that same vein, that districts need to consider which leadership investments might make the most sense for their context. For the push for new college and career-ready standards, you have principals who didn’t learn that content as students, didn’t teach it as teachers. Maybe that’s a space where you say, “Were our principals actually and adequately prepared and supported to do the new work that we’re expecting them to do? If not, then that’s where we need to focus our attention and our energy.” 

We’ve also seen that there’s a space for districts to start looking outside of themselves. For example, the state plans that were submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act, every single state plan included leadership in some way. 24 of those states are actually taking the opportunity to use a percentage of Title 2-A dollars to invest those funds specifically in leadership.

If I were a district leader wondering how I was going to approach this, I would be thinking, “Who are my partners here? Is there an opportunity for me to go to the state for support if this is something that they’re prioritizing? Maybe I can be the model. Maybe I can create an innovative district program that I could convince the state to provide some additional investment in.” Or apply for federal funding or seek resources elsewhere. Whether it’s a non-profit partner or build-your-own, find people who are doing the work that you want to learn from, and figure out the best way to implement it in your specific context, given what your specific district needs are.

We also did a report that can also be found at It’s called Great Principals at Scale, which we did with The Bush Institute that looks at the conditions that districts can use to cultivate principal success systemically across the district. Part of that looks at questions that districts need to wrestle with around, “What kind of autonomy should we be providing principals?”

What the report found is, when you provide principals with a balanced autonomy, so you’re not just saying, “Good luck, let us know how it goes,” and you’re also not prescribing their every action. You’re providing just the right level of support to scaffold and support their success, while also giving them the autonomy to lead the schools that they’re charged with. That’s really important and critical for districts.

Jackie, as you mentioned how you have many alumni that are serving some of the highest-need schools in America, let’s take a minute to talk about the diversity of the educator workforce. To what degree do principals really need to reflect the student body? And how has New Leaders tackled this issue of educator diversity?

JACKIE GRAN: At New Leaders, we see diversity as truly going hand in hand with excellence. We know that the research says that students do benefit when they’re able to see the leadership of their school reflect their experience and reflect their own backgrounds. So, what we’ve done at New Leaders is we have made a real intense effort as it relates to our Aspiring Principal Program to be very intentional about our recruitment process.

We’ve heard from a number of our leaders that having someone come to them and say, “I see this potential in you, we think you could be a great leader,” has often been really important as far as that first step in the journey. We often encourage districts not to overlook the incredible talent that they might have within their school system.

For our admissions process, it’s really important that we root ourselves in a core set of selection criteria that speak to each individual’s belief that all students can achieve at high levels, a real value understanding and ability regarding their experience with instructional practice. Have they been a teacher? We think that’s critical. Have they been able to move student achievements? And, are they able to work collaboratively with the adults in their building to do that well?

At the end of the day, that drives our selection process, and by putting such a heavy emphasis on smart recruiting, as an organization we’ve been able to really have incredibly diverse cohorts of leaders, all of whom, we believe, have the ability to support students. 64% percent of whom are leaders of color compared to 20% nationally.

I feel like people often think that these two things are exclusive, that if you say that leaders of color are particularly important for students of color, people hear that white people can’t do this. That’s not what we’re saying.

What we’re saying is that 20% of leaders are leaders of color, and that doesn’t reflect our student population nationally, and we need to do a better job on that. And, leaders of all backgrounds who have the right orientation and the right skillset can do this work well.

We’ve been speaking with Jackie Gran from New Leaders and with Crystal Harden-Lindsey, Executive Director at Green Street Academy. Thank you both for speaking with us today.

JACKIE GRAN: Thank you so much.

CRYSTAL HARDEN-LINDSAY: I appreciate the opportunity.

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For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.