Principals’ Academy Pushes for Radical Change

July 19, 2010

For release Tuesday noon July 20 and thereafter (670 words)

Lindan Hill, director of Marian University’s leadership academy that will train Indiana principals to transform bad schools, has ideas that may strike fear in the hearts of the education establishment:

If you don’t think these notions are threatening to the status quo, consider the reaction coming in since the Indiana Department of Education selected Marian from a pool of eight applicants, including Indiana University, for a $500,000 grant to establish a Turnaround Leadership Academy. The academy’s purpose is to develop “transformational leaders who will focus on the challenge of turning around Indiana’s chronically lowest-achieving schools.”
Apologists for the losing bidders have speculated Marian had an inside track because the wife of State School Superintendent Tony Bennett works part-time at its education school. An administrator from one Indianapolis college of education blogged, “It is unclear how the Department of Education can justify the promotion of one program that duplicates efforts already in existence at universities across the state.”
Negative feedback to the leadership academy reflects more than sour grapes; it is fear of radical change. The Turnaround Academy does not duplicate what exists in Indiana in content or in philosophy. Its faculty is of national renown and includes whom Hill describes as the “rock star” of systems management, Ian Mitroff, author of Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger and Better From a Crisis. Other acclaimed faculty members will be Samuel Casey Carter (No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools), E.D. Hirsch (The Core Knowledge Series) and Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion).
The academy, which intends to train 500 new principals in five years, will consist of a year of study followed by two years of on-the-job mentorship from the academy. Its principals will arrive at their schools with a sense of urgency and knowledge of the crisis management techniques used to turn around struggling businesses. Perhaps most upsetting to the education system as we know it, these principals will themselves be trained in classroom teaching techniques that have been shown to drive student achievement and will be taught how to hold teachers accountable for student test score gains.
Research cited by New Leaders for New Schools confirms: “Nearly 60 percent of a school’s impact on student achievement is attributable to principal and teacher effectiveness. These are the most important in-school factors driving school success, with principals accounting for 25 percent and teachers 33 percent of a school’s total impact on achievement.”
In other words, the most meaningful thing that can be done to improve education is to improve teaching. It will take committed leadership at the principal level to make sure this happens.
“Principals, school leaders have to understand excellent teaching,” Hill says. “They have to understand it thoroughly, they have to know it as second nature, they have to be able to document it, they have to be able to describe it to those excellent teachers because they need to be sitting with those excellent teachers saying, ‘You’re doing an excellent job and we support you and we can tell the difference.’ Those school leaders need to be able to identify inferior teaching, they need to be able to sit down with those teachers w ho are not doing well and describe quantitatively why their performance is not acceptable (and) describe how they will assist those teachers in improving.”
This is a radically different approach to school leadership. The Indiana education schools that train most of our principals and teachers do not offer in their curriculums – let alone recommend – the prescriptive management and teaching techniques that Marian promises to deliver to a new generation of principals. Reform really is on its way.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at


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