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A Reflection on Redefining and Empowering School Leadership in 2012

February 1, 2013 7 minute Read by Kerry Ann Moll

I am beyond inspired by what a committed network of individuals who hold a passion for improving school leadership and student achievement accomplished this past year.  As a former educator and administrator, I have always found reflection to be highly beneficial.  As the first five months in my role as Program Director for the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) close, it is with a combination of pride in our AREL Network’s hard work and an ongoing dedication to better prepare, recruit and empower our Nation’s principals that I reflect on 2012. I was fortunate to assume the role of AREL Director with a strong foundation from to which to begin building.  In the first half of 2012, AREL, its Network and its team had already begun to influence the national discourse on the significance of school leadership by spotlighting the critical role of principals in a PBS documentary entitled A Matter of Leadership and by authoring an interest piece in Education Week,  “The Promise of a Strong Principal.”  These two national pieces help highlight why school leaders matter in the lives of our children to an increasing education reform minded citizenry. My first day on the job, President and Mrs. Bush toured Brooke Mattapan Charter School before leading a roundtable discussion on school leadership with some of the Nation’s top education reform experts, principals and elected officials.  A second tour and school leadership roundtable took place a few months later at KIPP Explore Academy and was featured in The Houston ChronicleThese events not only stimulated action-orientated conversations on how to improve the principalship, but also highlighted the ongoing work of the George W. Bush Institute’s leadership work. 2012 also saw the addition of nine new, innovative principal preparation programs to the AREL Network.  Combined with its original 18 affiliates, the AREL Network is now composed of 28 programs, spanning 15 states and the District of Columbia.  As the New Year begins, AREL maintains two strong cohorts of principal preparation programs that have graduated over 1,500 school leaders serving in more than 40 school districts throughout the Nation.  AREL is also proud to be partnered with eight school districts and one statewide initiative in Delaware. The Network’s programs have taken full advantage of AREL’s ability to convene and collaborate toward improved principal preparation and the implementation of best leadership practices throughout our Nation’s schools.  AREL brought together its affiliates and thought-partners for an all-Network convening in January.  The outcome was a more focused strategy on how to achieve our mutual mission of redefining and empowering school leadership.  Beyond the convening, collaboration did not cease, as 11 AREL affiliates and representatives contributed to a virtual collaboration on improving program evaluation toward greater student gains.  Co-led by New Leaders, an exemplary AREL program, four of these collaborative sessions took place, covering topics such as Data Systems and Measuring Inputs and Program Implementation.  To ensure our programs maintain the highest of quality and continue to meet our nine standards, AREL also worked in partnership with the Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University to develop a program evaluation prototype. In addition to spotlighting the critical role of principals in education and convening our Network toward greater principal preparation and leadership practices, 2012 marked the start of AREL’s policy work. This past year, AREL collected data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to learn more about state laws, rules and regulations impacting principal preparation and licensure.  Using the information collected from this survey, AREL created state snapshots that will be used to help inform the policy conversation nationally to ensure that we are enabling principals to more effectively lead schools and drive student achievement.  I am proud to say that this is the first of its kind research and I am confident it will play a large role in reforming the principalship toward improved student results. I previewed AREL’s initial findings from its 50 State Policy Report at the annual Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Forum and was thrilled to see our work met with excitement from many of the country’s Chief State Superintendents.  AREL will release a full policy report on all of its findings from this collected data in early 2013, along with an interactive webpage on the George W. Bush Institute website. Believing in both redefining and empowering school leaders, AREL also launched its “Effective Conditions Project” in 2012, to codify the district and state conditions necessary for principals to successfully impact student achievement.  In collaboration with New Leaders, AREL held two Effective Conditions convenings over the past year - one in New York City and the other in Washington, D.C. - to define the conditions and autonomy necessary for principals to be successful in raising student achievement.  Participants represented principals, foundations, top-tier researchers and funders from throughout the nation.  AREL will release a report on the findings of these two convenings in 2013. These are only some of the many highlights of AREL and the Network’s work in 2012.  I assumed the role of Program Director a little over five months ago believing if we worked together to redefine and empower our Nation’s school leaders, student achievement would rise.  I end this reflection even more confident in that belief and with a heart and mind ready to continue working with our Network of passionate individuals to make lasting changes for our Nation’s students. While one year closes, another begins and AREL, its Network and its team are already hard at work to ensure we continue to redefine and empower our Nation’s school leaders.  Check back next week to read about AREL’s goals for the upcoming year.

This blog was written by Dr. Kerry Moll, Director for The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) at the George W. Bush Institute, and Patrick Kobler, Program Coordinator for The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) at the George W. Bush Institute.  You can follow them on Twitter @KerryAnnMoll and @PatrickKobler