HJR 20/SJR 58: Commission to Review, Study and Reform Educational Leadership

October 18, 2002

Achievable Dream

The commission's fourth meeting featured presentations from representatives of the Achievable Dream Urban School Learning and Leadership Institute in Newport News. National data comparing the performance of minority and majority students indicate an achievement gap of 15 to 40 percentage points on standardized tests. Achievable Dream (AD) has virtually eliminated this performance gap, with its students surpassing the Virginia student average on SOL tests. In 2001, the gap between majority and minority students stood at 29 percent, and at about 10 percent between Achievable Dream students (71 percent) and majority students (81 percent). In 2002, both Achievable Dream students' and majority students' SOL performance stood at 79 percent.

Achievable Dream began in 1992 as a summer tennis program for at-risk youth. In 1994, the program became a school within a school, serving grades 3 through 5. Today, the program is in its third year as a year-round school, with 750 students in grades K–8 at the Achievable Dream Academy, and 175 high school students in comprehensive high schools. All participating students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 96 percent are minority students. Students enrolled in Achievable Dream demonstrate "multiple social risk factors," such as free/reduced-lunch eligibility, school attendance or discipline issues, and various housing and family concerns.

Representatives attribute the success of Achievable Dream to solid leadership, a comprehensive plan, and research-support educational strategies. More specifically: a longer school day (8.5 hours); a year-round calendar (30 additional days); curriculum alignment; Saturday sessions—"by invitation only"—designed to assist youngsters who are not reading on grade level; pre- and post-testing initiatives; data-driven decisions; ongoing professional development; and the overall school climate and culture all support the program's success. Also contributing are daily accountability for teachers, a social skills training component, healthy living and conflict mediation efforts, continuous character development, tennis, school uniforms, and additional teacher assistants and tutors.

Private sector funding—totaling $500,000 from Achievable Dream—supports the uniforms and additional tutors; public school funds support the extended day initiative. The private sector support results in nearly $1,800 additional per pupil expenditure for AD students. The academy's school year begins on July 28, with a two-week inter-session following the initial nine-week period. Pre-tests in grades K–8 help refine the focus of the inter-session remediation and enrichment; a post-test indicates the effectiveness of the inter-session. Disaggregated data is used throughout the school year to guide decision-making.

"Awareness" sessions in the Newport News schools prompt students and parents to apply for admission to the Achievable Dream program. The initial "target" population is second grade students performing in the second and third quartiles who are also on free and reduced-price lunch. Academy students in grades K–2 are area pupils, while grade 3 draws students from all over the city. Parents sign a "contract" with Achievable Dream, indicating, among other things, their pledge to provide study space at home. Adult education, with child care, is available two nights a week through the program. The academy boasts the highest PTA membership in the division, with the school serving almost as a community center. High school students are required to apply for at least 10 scholarships to pursue higher education.

An Urban Learning Center/Leadership Institute is also associated with the Achievable Dream initiative. The AD program does not experience a high turnover in teachers; the four losses this past year were due to geographic relocations.

JMU Program

James Madison University's program to train beginning school administrators integrates practical projects and experiences and is aligned with the Standards of Accreditation for principals as well as NCATE and ISLLC. While a variety of organizations provide continuing education initiatives, there is little coordination among the course offerings. Increased regional efforts, combining the contributions of school divisions, higher education, and professional organizations, might effectively address this concern.

Poor working conditions, lack of prestige, and the pressures of accountability have reduced the school administrator candidate pool. Alternative candidate sources are "at best" a "minimal source of potential administrators" as principals need significant teaching experience. Discussion focused on principal "burn out" due to commitment to attend extracurricular and interscholastic activities; the principal as "instructional leader"—the individual who is not necessarily a master teacher but who is responsible for student performance and positive results; the need for multiple kinds of expertise within the principal team; the development of a two-tiered licensure system for principals and teachers that incorporates an internship; standards for internships; and the distinction between a perceived shortage of principals and a real shortage of qualified, willing candidates.

Leadership Report

Two Virginia college professors described their report, School Leadership in an Era of Accountability, commissioned by CEPI and funded by SAELP for use by the commission and the CEPI Task Force. Focusing on working conditions, professional preparation, shortages, and professional development, the report noted a number of ongoing and possible initiatives to address these increasing challenges.

Restructuring the principal's role to allow the administrator to act as "CEO of Instruction" and adding a "team" of associates to the principalship was cited, as was increased authority for site-based decision-making. Also noted were recognition programs, salary benchmarks, portable benefits, and incentives for underserved areas. To address shortages, the report suggested increased identification of talent within schools and school divisions, perhaps using assessment centers to examine the "disposition and temperament of prospective leaders before resources are invested in training"; financial sponsorship of candidates in education and internships or in exchange for service; statewide recruitment efforts "for a broad cross-section of educators"; incentive systems based on school improvement rather than seniority; and the creation of a principal scholarship loan program.

To enhance professional preparation, the report suggests redesigning programs to focus on teaching and learning and to include mentored internships of six months to one year; expanding the curriculum to include data analysis, school improvement, and student assessment; the use of standards-based program evaluations and performance-based assessments for program graduates; and multiple licensure routes, perhaps incorporating the use of portfolios or demonstrated mentored performance or creating a two-tiered system. The Commonwealth, having already adopted the ISLLC standards, has already required some restructuring of university preparation programs.

Professional development might be enhanced through clinical faculty or mentor initiatives for beginning principals; one-on-one telephone coaching; the creation of leadership academies and collaborative professional development councils; and an improved support network offered by professional organizations as well as school divisions.

The commission will develop interim recommendations at its November meeting.


The Hon. Phillip A. Hamilton

For information, contact:

Kathleen G. Harris
Division of Legislative Services


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