Radio Show Profiles Colorado State University’s School Leadership Institute

AACTE members Donna Cooner and Wendy Fothergill at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins were featured in a recent episode of Education Talk Radio to discuss their university’s School Leadership Institute. CSU launched the institute a year ago to identify effective ways to support new PK-12 principals and administrators.

The institute helps identify effective ways to support principals in their critical first year on the job based on feedback from recent program graduates. The goals of the Institute are

  • To identify structures and practices to support school leaders in the first three years on the job.
  • To provide critical networking opportunities with other new administrators across the country, with a focus on renewal and retention.
  • To identify curriculum for university-based principal preparation programs that reflects the reality of principals’ jobs.

“We know that school principals are one of the key factors in teacher retention so we want to focus energy and resources into retaining high-quality principals,” said Fothergill, assistant professor in CSU’s School of Education. “Our mission and goals are to identify structures and practices to support new school leaders on their jobs, provide professional development and networking opportunities, and promote good mental and physical health. In our initial study, we observed physical indicators of declining health in principals during their first three years to include stress indicators and weight loss or gain.”

As part of the Institute, a retreat is held annually for recent graduates of CSU’s School of Education and others who are in their first years as PK-12 leaders. Nearly 20 principals or administrators participated in the Institute held in December in 2017 and 2018. In reflecting on the institute, one participant commented, “This retreat helped me re-center, prioritize my goals, and reflect on my practice.”

Conner and Fothergill, who are both former elementary school principals, are working to grow the Institute into a national model for principal preparation. They are connecting their work to The Wallace Foundation report “Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes from the Field,” which highlights recent research about the importance of a strong partnership between universities and districts; district leaders’ views about the need to improve principal preparation programs in ways that reflect principals’ real jobs; and how some university policies and practices can hinder change.

There seems to be a big disconnect between preparation programs at universities and schools districts, which is one of the reasons we created this program,” said Cooner, professor in CSU’s School of Education. “We are trying to figure out ways that we can work with both sides to bridge the gap. One of the real problems we face is that there is no funding. School districts do not have funding dedicated to mentorship for principals in their first year on the job. We are working with school districts, universities, and foundations to address this problem.”

To learn more about CSU’s School Leadership Institute, listen to the show recording on the Education Talk Radio website.

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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE