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Program helps new principals gain an edge

Kristen B. Morales

November 8, 2017

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These days, if you want to be an effective principal, it’s not enough to simply have a passion for students.

There are budgets to consider. There are ethical issues that require a skilled touch. There are mountains of data that need to be mined. All of these complex matters—and many, many more—require a depth of knowledge that often doesn’t come to principals in their first few years on the job.

But luckily, the College of Education’s Early Career Principal Readiness Program exists to help navigate these waters. Now in its seventh year, faculty members Sherrie Gibney-Sherman and Bettye Ray of the Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy coordinate the innovative 18-month program that features guest speakers on topics crucial to principals’ success. While other principal readiness programs exist around Georgia, the College can leverage its position as the flagship institution to bring recognized leaders as speakers. The result is top-notch support for districts across the state.

“We invite people with a proven track record—people who have been successful as principals and are doing amazing things in their schools now,” says Ray. “And Sherrie and I have worked at every level of a school—as principals, in the central office, and into the superintendency at some level. So we have lots of experience between the two of us.”

Cohorts typically meet monthly for deep dives into topics, some of which are standard and others reflective of the needs of the students. The most recent group of principals, for example, learned from the executive director of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, award-winning middle and high school principals, the chief investigator for the state’s teacher-certification office, and an expert on gifted education.

“There are just so many things you have to learn and understand, and you can feel very alone trying to make those things happen,” says Gibney-Sherman. “Here, they bring their real-life issues to the table, and they have a safe place to have a conversation about whatever is on their mind.”

After they complete the program the principals keep in touch, providing a network of peers to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of. And, of course, Ray and Gibney-Sherman are also just a phone call or email away.

“At the end of the year they say, ‘We’re your babies and you’re throwing us out,’” says Ray, laughing. “And I say, ‘We prepared you—you are ready to fly.’”