WKU receives grant for principal training

Leah Johnson

WKU will receive $1.7 million in its first year of participation with an education initiative with other universities after being selected by The Wallace Foundation, a nonprofit focused on benefitting underprivileged students, to participate in a new initiative to improve principal training.

Seven universities around the country were chosen by the Wallace Foundation to take part in a new principal training initiative. Since 2000, The Wallace Foundation has researched principal importance to schools, showing that education cannot be fixed just in the classroom. The foundation found training for principals needs to be both theoretical and practical to adequately prepare them for the position.

Over the next four years, WKU will be redesigning its program to improve principal preparation. The first phase of the initiative will be an assessment of the current program through a rigorous review to determine the strengths and weaknesses. The University of Illinois, Chicago will support and mentor WKU through this process, as the Wallace Foundation identifies them as an excellent program.

Marguerita Desander, head of the educational administration, leadership and research department, said this is an incredible opportunity for WKU. She said though the grant is about ensuring the success of the principal training program at WKU, there is hope the program will reach other colleges and universities, and they can implement lessons learned to improve their programs as well.

“It’s a dynamic process because what we’re actually doing is saying that, just because we’ve developed the courses doesn’t mean that we’re done,” Desander said. “It means that we’re just at the very beginning of the process all over again, and we’re going to continue to look at our work and what we do and make changes as we need to based on what we’re learning back from our districts.”

Desander said that there are 700 colleges and universities across the country that are engaged in a principal preparation program. Only 24 of those institutions were invited to apply for the Wallace Foundation grant, and the foundation awarded funds to just seven schools. She said WKU’s selection demonstrates the great work that is done by faculty at the WKU.

“I mean as somebody who’s been involved in principal preparation now for 10 years, this is like a kid in a candy store kind of thing,” Desander said. “We’re really getting the opportunity to engage in that kind of thing, and that’s so cool. It’s like building your dream house except we’re building our dream program.”

WKU will work with the Green River Regional Education and the Educational Professional Standards Board to improve their training for students about to enter the workforce.

Melissa Biggerstaff, the associate executive director of the Green River Regional Education Cooperative, said that their role in the partnership is to develop a leadership tracking system, so they can receive feedback during this initiative and after.

“What we’re excited about with this particular grants is that it’s a tremendous opportunity for not only WKU but for all of the great districts,” Biggerstaff said. “We currently serve 43 districts, and so it’s a great opportunity for them and for WKU to train high quality, highly effective principals for every school in our region. We’re excited about that.”

The Educational Professional Standards Board will work to facilitate groups that have a desire to be involved in principal preparation. Bennett Boggs, the director of educational preparation, said once the findings start coming out from this initiative, they hope to make that information available to other districts across the state. They’ve found strong leadership in schools is critical, and Boggs said the Educational Professional Standards Board is excited for WKU and this opportunity.

“We certainly want to give our support to Western and the faculty that will be working on this grant,” Boggs said.

In 2011, the Wallace Foundation created the Principal Pipeline Initiative which provided funding for six school districts to receive support for new principal hires. The initiative was designed to strengthen efforts in building the pipeline, conduct research on how the pipeline will affect student achievement and provide learning opportunities to the districts, according to the Wallace Foundation’s website.

This new initiative is the third step in the Wallace Foundation’s plan to improve principals around the country. Their previous efforts have worked with sitting principals and new hires, but this initiative will work with students to give them better training from the beginning of their education.

Reporter Leah Johnson can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected].