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Program fosters new school leaders

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

It takes a good leader to help create a great school. But often, school districts don't have the support or resources to prepare new principals for this challenge.

Recognizing this need, the College of Education's Early Career Principal Residency Program (ECPRP) provides real-time professional learning for principals in their first three years of the role. The program, which began in 2010 and is a partnership with the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, reaches these school leaders early in order to have the largest potential effect on student achievement, said Jack Parrish, associate dean for outreach and engagement and director of the program.

"Principals today are under intense pressures and face many challenges, most of which can best be met and addressed through a formal support system. The ECPRP provides this support system," said Parish, who has 22 years of K-12 leadership experience, including eight years as Henry County Schools superintendent before joining the UGA faculty. "It helps novice principals learn their craft and shape their leadership style in ways that have positive impacts on student learning,"

The 18-month program includes face-to-face seminars, interactions with experts in educational leadership, performance-based activities for on-the-job learning and a mentoring/coaching component for ongoing support.

Participants meet face-to-face in 12 weekend sessions over the course of the program. One innovative component is the development of a virtual community where participants can interact and learn from each other and those who have completed the course. So far, about 60 school administrators have participated in the program.

New principals say it's helpful to learn others face similar issues.

"As a new principal it has been great to connect with other new principals, especially from around the state," said Ellen Sabatini, principal at Barrow Elementary School in Athens. "We have shared a lot of similar issues and been able to learn things from one another. I think sometimes when you're in your school you just get so deep in all of your little issues that you don't have the bigger perspective."

Sherry Goodson, principal of Carrollton Elementary School from 2009 to 2011, agreed that the sense of community and continued support is a perk of the program. "People just assume that once you get into that position, you automatically know everything that you're supposed to know and that's just not the case," said Goodson, who is now a program coordinator for Carrollton City Schools. "This is a great support system to allow us to get that backing and expertise from the ones who have been there."

COE faculty and top educational leaders from throughout the state provide instruction for the program. That list includes 2009 National High School Principal of the Year Mark Wilson, formerly of Morgan County Schools, and two UGA alumni, 2011 National High School Principal of the Year Wes Taylor of Lowndes County and 2013 National Middle School Principal of the Year Laurie Barron, formerly of Coweta County.

"There's probably nothing you can do that's more beneficial than being plugged into something like this that gives you access to other principals, other people who are in the same situation, and people who are experts in the field in such a short time and so early in your career." said Derald C. Jones, principal of Lowndes Middle School in Valdosta.

In 2012, the program received a three-year, $156,000 Innovation Fund grant from Georgia's Race to the Top Plan. This money allows early career principals from some of Georgia's highest-need schools to participate in the program.

Now, these young leaders and their schools are reaping the benefits of the program. In 2012, Bacon County Elementary School in Alma, led by Judy Rowland, and Bernd Elementary School in Macon, led by Chris Ridley, were named High-Progress Reward Schools by the Georgia Department of Education. This designation recognizes schools with the highest performance or greatest academic gains by students in the last three years.

These success stories reinforce a primary goal of the Early Career Principal Residency Program that strong leaders create strong schools.

"The more we can partner and work with school principals and school personnel, the more positive impact we can have on public education in our state," said Parish. "Ultimately, those who will benefit most from this will be students in schools throughout Georgia."

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602