By Amber Galaviz
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – With a new law mandating that school administrators be evaluated every year, a national organization has started training school leaders in Virginia to improve school climate, teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.
The National Institute of School Leadership has begun its Executive Development Program in Virginia, with the goal of giving principals the knowledge and skills they need to be leaders and to improve student achievement in their schools. More than 26 states have taken part in the NISL’s program, which was developed with $11 million of research over five years.
Training started for Virginia leaders this month in Sandston over a two-day period. The first set of nearly 30 trainees included officials from the Virginia Foundation of Educational Leadership and the Virginia Department of Education as well as district administrators and school principals from Richmond and Roanoke.
“Being able to have people with skills that someone would want to pay for and that can advance us all so critically is the heart of what we do,” Bob Hughes, the president of NISL, said in a telephone interview.
The development program is effective, according to studies by Old Dominion University and Johns Hopkins University. They found that schools led by NISL-trained principals had higher achievement than schools led by other principals.
Training consists of 27 days of face-to-face training and about 42 hours of online instruction during a 12- to 18-month period. The training covers 13 units, including “Foundations of Effective Learning,” “The Principal as Ethical Leader” and “The Principal as Driver of Change.”
“It’s very difficult for adults to change, and we have to ensure that the experience of this is all about the students as the focus – not so much about the adults, but the adults as agents of improved instruction,” Hughes said.
The program covers not only hot topics that face schools across the country but also issues of especially local concern.
“But the generic issues are still there,” Hughes said, explaining Virginia schools don’t face any challenges the NISL hasn’t seen before.
“When you gather principals together and ask them what their main challenges, those pretty much – apart from local funding issues, the size of a school or the local controversy about those sorts of things – the issues are about the same about improving instruction, about faculty capacity and about a just fair and caring community.”
The NISL training follows the General Assembly’s passage this year of legislation requiring annual evaluations of principals and assistant principals as well as teachers.
“Principals and assistant principals who have achieved continuing contract status shall be formally evaluated at least once every three years and evaluated informally at least once each year that they are not formally evaluated. Probationary principals and assistant principals shall be evaluated each school year,” states Senate Bill 1223, which Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law.
The law also says, “Evaluations shall include student academic progress as a significant component and an overall summative rating.”