Ensuring Quality-Plus Leaders for 21st Century Schools

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In November 2006 I wrote in this column that "Everything rises and falls on leadership." I believe this maxim is timeless and applies to every group, organization, or profession. With this precept in mind, reinforced by research from education and the private sector, Gwinnett County Public Schools launched its Quality-Plus Leader Academy (QPLA) in January 2007. Our goal was simple: provide the knowledge that is needed, enhance the skills desired, and strengthen the talents required to be an effective school principal in the 21st century.

Thirty-seven aspiring principals graduated from the Academy in December.

To date, 19 have been promoted to principalships. As I have interviewed potential principals this year, I have seen that the candidates from the Academy are particularly knowledgeable, skilled, and talented. Their readiness to accept the challenges of school leadership affirms the value of committing time and resources to this program.

I am not alone in that belief. Last summer the school district was awarded a three-year grant by The Broad Foundation of almost $3.8 million. The grant is being used in the recruitment, selection, development, and ongoing support of principals who are prepared to lead schools in unprecedented ways. Our efforts in launching the Academy played a major role in securing this grant, which further benefits our QPLA work.

In March we selected 24 individuals, including assistant principals and recent principal appointees, for the Academy”s second class. They became students again in this customized program designed to ensure we have the caliber of principals needed for the challenging years ahead. The Academy program is comprehensive. It covers curriculum and instruction, funding, human resources, operations management, and community relations, plus lessons in leadership and management from the business sector. The instructors are senior executives in the school district—experts in their areas. Case studies based on actual Gwinnett issues bridge the gap between theory and practice, and Academy members will participate in internships with successful principals following their QPLA year.

The Quality-Plus Leader Academy is a major component in our succession plan for school leaders and one of the most exciting initiatives of my superintendency. It offers assurance that our schools will be led by professionals who know their business and who understand the power of leadership in achieving the district”s mission and goals. It is essential work, because "everything rises and falls on leadership."