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Training program nets $3.7 million grant

September 17, 2008

For Arizona State University’s award-winning College of Teacher Education and Leadership, the hits just keep coming.  The West campus college has received a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to provide school leadership training to nine high-poverty school districts around the state through the college’s existing video conferencing network.

The award comes on the heels of a $3.19-million DOE grant for the college’s Project ASPIRE, and has its roots in a $10-million DOE award for the creation of the Professional Development Schools (PDS) program that has been recognized nationally for its high level of success in the areas of teacher retention and student achievement in under-served school districts.

The grant, “Urban and Rural Bridge for Action Network – Excellence and Collaboration in Educational Leadership (URBAN-EXCEL),” will create a high-quality and rigorous principal certification program built on the needs of the partner districts and the recommendations of current exemplary principal certification programs.  The partnership with the districts will bring state-of-the-art professional development to acting principals in the URBAN-EXCEL network through technology.  A “Principal Academy” will offer application-oriented workshops and advanced professional development seminars with the option of site-based, individualized coaching and campus visits, if the participants choose.

The nine districts in the URBAN-EXCEL partnership include three in Phoenix – Creighton School District, Osborn School District, Roosevelt School District. Six districts are located in rural communities – Chinle Unified, Coolidge Unified, Douglas Unified, Gadsden Unified (San Luis), Indian Oasis-Baboquivari School District (Sells), Kingman Unified.  Included in these districts are 51,200 students, 3,115 teachers, and 76 schools.  Of the schools, 45 percent were in some level of corrective action in 2007.  The Creighton, Roosevelt, Coolidge and Kingman districts are newcomers to the college’s video conferencing network, which now counts 15 statewide partners across its three professional development programs.

“This is another outstanding opportunity to reach out and make a difference in education in areas where the needs are the greatest,” says Scott Ridley, the college’s assistant dean and associate professor who was the principal investigator on the grant proposal.  “We know that when the school principal is not perceived as a quality leader, good teachers at that school tend to leave.  This is a logical next step for the College of Teacher Education and Leadership – to help with school leadership issues.”

The DOE grant program “provides assistance to Institutes of Higher Education in partnerships with high-need Local Education Agencies in the development, enhancement or expansion of innovative programs to recruit, train and mentor principals (including assistant principals) for high-need schools,” according to the department Web site.

“It’s not by accident that the college has won national awards for our partnerships,” says college dean Mari Koerner, referring to a Best Practice Award for Effective Partnerships from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and a Rich Media Impact Scholastic Achievement Award from Sonic Foundry.  “We are unique in how we make a difference in schools, and we continue to expand the depth of our commitment to improving schools by providing outstanding resources and expertise.”

Two initiatives are included in the grant program – a highly selective principal certification program and a video conference-based professional development Principal Academy.

The URBAN-EXCEL Principal Certification Program represents a new and higher standard of rigor in the preparation of Arizona principals, says Ridley.  He points to key elements of the program – a full-year internship, intensive observation, and a unique coaching framework focusing on self-reflection by candidates to assist them in problem-solving, data analysis, and leadership techniques.  The program is designed for principals who will serve in schools in high-poverty rural and urban communities.

The Principal Academy will be delivered through live, interactive video conferences to partner districts across the state, bringing virtual “face-to-face” instruction to even the most isolated and remotely located administrator.  Non-graded workshops covering areas of interest expressed by the participants, as well as classes extending the workshops and designed to enhance performance, will be featured.

“We have learned a great deal through our experiences with PDS and Project ASPIRE that has helped us balance access to the program with the rigors of the program,” says Ridley.

“There are no limits to video conferencing.  It used to be that this type of program would come out of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, but now we are reaching into every corner of the state, and the different districts’ norms are getting exposed to each other.  This helps standardize the high quality of the programs across the state.”

Ridley also notes the new grant provides the college with a logical expansion of its offerings.

“Through the PDS program, we are reaching out to elementary education, putting our students in under-served schools and increasing teacher retention and student achievement,” he says.  “Project ASPIRE will have a tremendous and lasting impact on special education in this state and those who teach to children with special needs.  With this latest grant, we will enhance the quality of educational leadership.

"The college is really the leader in the state when it comes to working with and making a difference in the success of high-need districts.”