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NEW YORK, NY – The Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds have approved a $1.58 million grant to Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership to design and implement a model program to help school superintendents be effective in an increasingly complex, challenging and politicized environment.
Very few continuing learning opportunities exist for education leaders that fully address the range of skills needed to create sustained organizational improvements that promote better student achievement. Over the next two years, the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, working in partnership with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, will apply its well-established expertise in improving leadership practice to developing and implementing an intensive, interactive learning experience that addresses these challenges, and that can serve as a model for future superintendent leadership programs.
“Superintendents have practically no place to go to increase their leadership capacities, share experiences and knowledge with colleagues, and think more deeply and systematically about what it means to be an effective educational leader,” said Mary Lee Fitzgerald, director of education programs at the Wallace Funds. “This new program will be an opportunity for these education leaders to analyze and draw on their own efforts as reformers, and share their insights far more broadly with others in the field.”
“Educators charged with teaching our nation's children work one of the most challenging and difficult arenas of public service,” said Joseph S. Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. “This bold new program will help develop the leadership capacity among this country's superintendents that is needed to address the challenges facing educators today."
“If America is to be a light unto the nations, then there can be nothing more important than to commit ourselves to figuring out how to educate, in the fullest sense of the term, the children of our country,” said Ronald Heifetz, founding director of the Center for Public Leadership and current director of the Leadership Educators Project. “Our colleague, Dean Williams, has done a remarkable job developing and designing this project with the Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, and I am delighted to serve and learn by his side in this effort."
The initial 10-to-12 participants will be superintendents from school districts taking part in the Funds’ newly launched Leadership for Educational Achievement in Districts (LEAD) (see attached release). Working with those experienced leaders over two years, the Center will develop a series of 16-day residential workshops to build leadership skills and practical new tools to take back to their districts. The program also will provide monthly coaching and consultation sessions for each participant, create networks to promote professional sharing and communications, and develop research and case studies of use within LEAD districts.
The theoretical perspective for this new program draws from a model of leadership developed during the last 20 years by a team of faculty and graduate students led by Dr. Heifetz. Those ideas, some of which are detailed in his seminal book, Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994: Harvard University/Belknap Press), suggest that is not enough for school leaders to rest on technical expertise or past practices to meet the educational challenges demanded of them. The Superintendents Leadership Program is based instead on the idea that leaders need to create a system-wide shift in focus within their districts to bring about more widespread public commitments, new ways of looking at both familiar and unfamiliar situations within a school system, and new strategies and skills for generating consistent, measurable improvement in school performance.
The new program at Harvard is part of a range of strategies being supported over the next five years in the Wallace Funds’ LEADERS Count initiative, whose objectives include: attracting and placing a broader pool of able candidates for education leadership; strengthening the abilities of principals and superintendents to improve learning; and creating conditions that allow principals and superintendents to perform as effective leaders.
The Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds seek to create opportunities for people to enrich themselves through better schools, enhanced community activities, and participation in the arts.