Principal Interns Train for Future

Year-long Seattle program prepares teachers who want to lead nation's school

IT'S hard to tell who is the principal here at White Center Heights Elementary School in an industrial area of south Seattle.

Both Rick Hanks and Diana Garcia look the part. They each visit classrooms regularly, discipline and counsel students, and evaluate teachers. But Mr. Hanks is the official principal and Ms. Garcia is a principal intern.

ve thought about being a principal since I first began teaching," says Garcia, a 12-year veteran teacher.

But her first experience with a principal-training program caused Garcia to reconsider the idea. After a few quarters of teaching school during the day and taking courses at night, Garcia dropped the program.

"You can't be a classroom teacher all day and then go talk principaling for an hour and have it make sense," she says. "That's just no way to learn."

Frustrated by not being able to practice the theories taught in class and exhausted by the schedule of studying and teaching at the same time, Garcia temporarily gave up on the idea of becoming a principal.

But when she heard about the Danforth Principal Preparation Program at the University of Washington (UW) here, Garcia's goal of someday leading a school moved back into sight.

She is now well on her way to becoming qualified as a principal. "Before I knew about Danforth, you just didn't question it," Garcia says, about the traditional approach to training principals. "It was just the way it was done."

But in 1986, the Danforth Foundation in St. Louis started a project to rethink the conventional method of training education leaders. Danforth provided seed money for alternative programs at five education schools nationwide; the University of Washington is one of those sites.

Although UW's conventional principal-preparation program has won awards and was highly regarded, the school is phasing out its old approach in favor of the Danforth program.

Under the old plan, most students continued full-time teaching responsibilities and took classes as they could on evenings and weekends. Students could enroll at any point, take courses as they chose, and spend as long as necessary to graduate.

The Danforth program enrolls a maximum of 20 students each summer, provides intensive seminars and coursework on campus, and requires students to work part time as interns in several school settings.

"It's a much more demanding program for everyone," says Kenneth Sirotnik, a UW education professor. "But it ought to be. What could be more important than training the people who will lead our schools?"

The Danforth program at UW was started four years ago and will have 59 graduates by this summer. It's a year-long process that begins with a 10-day "residential institute" initiating students into the program and ends with a "culminating summer session" just before certification.

During the academic year, Danforth students complete three internships with experienced principals who serve as mentors. Students are required to spend a minimum of 12 hours per week working as interns. One day each week is spent on the UW campus for coursework.

From 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Thursday, the 20 students meet for lectures, discussion, and a "reflective seminar" in which students share and discuss their experiences at the schools where they intern during the week.

"Twenty different people have been in 20 different schools, and they bring that to the table," says Kathy Mueller, director of the program. "So vicariously students experience 60 or so schools in the year."

UW education professors provide some of the instruction. But at least 50 percent of the teaching is done by working superintendents, principals, and other administrators. "We want people who are in touch with the reality of schools," Ms. Mueller says.

The overriding goal is to integrate the academics with the internship experience. "I could not have done one without the other," Garcia says. "Thursdays give me a theoretical framework, and then I can see how it applies on the job during the week."

WE'RE delivering courses in a whole different way," Professor Sirotnik says. For example, the course material on finance is timed to coincide with the budget process at schools so that it's relevant to students.

The trick to making the program work is securing release time for teachers who want to become principals.

"Districts support release in a variety of ways," Sirotnik says. Some allow teachers to take a year-long sabbatical, some require half-time teaching, others place participants in part-time administrative positions.

Sirotnik acknowledges that the program requires an unprecedented level of support from school districts. But he considers that a positive factor for the training of future principals.

The university works closely with school districts to identify qualified candidates for the program, and this partnership boosts the quality of applicants to the program, Sirotnik says.

"The districts are committed to identifying leaders. They don't want to invest in somebody unless they are likely to be successful. ... A great deal of what comes into the program, walks out of the program," he says. "About 80 to 85 percent of leadership skills come in just waiting to be developed."

In addition, Sirotnik says, "we are forced into being far more accountable." The school districts expect to see Danforth graduates take on leadership roles in their districts.

Part of the program's aim is to reach qualified minority applicants; 29 percent of the graduates and current students are minorities, Mueller says.

Rick Hanks, the mentor principal at White Center Heights Elementary here, says the Danforth program "benefits the schools as much as it benefits the interns."

Garcia has brought new ideas and insights to a normally isolated job, he says. Assistant principals at the elementary-school level are rare. "Having an intern here to bounce ideas off of has been tremendous," Hanks says.

The Thursday coursework at the university also finds its way back into the school. "It would be a real rare week that I didn't bring something for Rick to read or talk about," Garcia says.

That's all part of the plan, Mueller says. "We're trying to have several levels of renewal - one for principals, one for students, and one for faculty."

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