Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency


Iowa Principal Leadership Leadership Academy: A collaborative principal training program of Northwest AEA, Prairie Lakes AEA and the School Administrators of Iowa

Vision: The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is designed to address the needs in Iowa for strengthening and changing school and district leadership to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Mission: To certify aspiring PK-12 principals through professional and personal leadership development in order to serve schools where all students achieve at high levels.

The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is comprised of Area Education Agencies 3, 4, 5, and 12 (as of July 1, 2006 NWAEA and Prairie Lakes AEA), in Northwest Iowa working in collaboration with the School Administrators of Iowa. Beginning as a pilot program funded by the Iowa Department of Education, its primary purpose was to develop an innovative rural principal preparation program that could be used as a model for principal preparation in the state of Iowa. The original intent was to conduct a pilot in collaboration with an existing university, to develop more relevant content, and to implement creative processes and strategies to deliver that content. The university partner decided not to participate. In addition, the pilot itself was no longer a viable option, as principal cohort members could not be guaranteed licensure due to the changes in the Iowa Code and the development of the Iowa Standards for School Leaders (ISSL).

The Academy Advisory Board faced the choice to either discontinue the pilot or to meet the same standards of any principal licensure program in Iowa. Because of the Advisory Board’s commitment to improving the principal preparation programs in Iowa and their total belief in the principal preparation program developed by the Iowa Principal Leadership Academy (IPLA), the decision was to continue. The Advisory Board was further encouraged, after consultation with Dr. Joe Murphy, national expert on the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards, that an exemplary training program need not involve a university. As of 2006 the Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is now a permanent accredited principal preparation program in Iowa. The Iowa Principal leadership Academy program was developed by an Advisory Board with membership from the following educational communities: principals, superintendents, School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Regent’s Board, Area Education Agency Directors and consultants, former Director of the Iowa Leadership Initiative, Buena Vista University, and former Iowa administrators. The program of the Academy is based on theory, research, and best practice. Iowa, like other states in the nation, is facing a leadership crisis. If Iowa is to be successful in raising academic standards and in improving academic achievement, principals need to have different kinds of skills and knowledge. Principal preparation programs need to restructure their programs and develop new goals if teaching and learning in Iowa schools is to improve.

The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is designed to address the needs in Iowa for strengthening and changing school and district leadership to meet the needs of the 21st century. Future leaders in Iowa will understand that the current system of “loose coupling,” now prevalent in Iowa needs to evolve into a system where student performance and achievement take preference over institutional practices that are no longer viable and very likely prohibit meeting student, workplace, and economic needs.

Cohort members who successfully complete the IPLA program will be instructional leaders skilled in differential leadership and able to lead standards-based reform that develops and improves all student achievement. Future principals will understand that the purpose of leadership is the improvement of instructional practice and performance; that instructional improvement requires continuous learning; learning requires modeling; the roles and activities of leadership flow from the expertise required for learning and improvement and not from the formal dictates of the institution; and finally, that the exercise of authority requires reciprocity of accountability and capacity building.

The core curriculum of the Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is designed to provide each candidate with the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to manage an educational program focused on teaching and learning that results in continuous improvement of student achievement. The curriculum and learning activities were developed to directly correlate with each of the Iowa Standards for School leadership (ISSL), and as a result, there are six problem-based learning themes based on the six ISSL standards. In each of the themes, cohort members are engaged in specific activities linked to one or more of the ISSL Standards, Design, and Leadership Principles. Cohort members participate in seminars in research and theory supported by experts in the field; take part in clinical experiences; join in continuous cohort group activities that consist of study, discussion, sharing and reflection; and be appraised of their progress through frequent monitoring and assessment by the Program Director, mentors, and self-assessment. Cohort members have multiple mentors who are active practitioners in the field that support them in the learning activities contained in each of the problem-based learning themes. The seminar instructors, experts, and mentors are selected because of their knowledge, skills, and dispositions within one of the themes and standards. Mentors are either former or practicing professionals and/or Area Agency Directors, specialists or consultants, members of statewide organizations or agencies, and/or the Iowa Department of Education. Cohort members also have access to additional support for their individual needs from other area education agency consultants, as well as administrators and educational experts in the Northwest Iowa region and across the state.

The Program Director provides support and locates support needed in terms of personnel, materials, and resources. Cohort members receive further support from the building administrator in which they are employed and agreements for their release time are made prior to entering the program. In the delivery of the core curriculum, there are several in-common components used to support each of the ISSL Standards and problem-based themes. These components are essential to the learning of the cohort members, and cohort members must be able to skillfully use the components as leaders. The in-common components include:

  1. conducting an action research study
  2. developing an action plan and staff development plan using the Iowa Professional Development Model
  3. participating in field activities that support the ISSL Standards and problem-based themes
  4. engaging in cohort group activities
  5. tracking competences through portfolio and a log of activities
  6. monitoring reflective thinking through journaling
  7. completing a Tool Box of activities on each Standard
  8. evaluating learning through multiple assessment activities

The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is comprised of a Program Director, seminar instructors and mentors. The Program Director(s) brings established leadership as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. Each of the seminar instructors and mentors bring the experience, qualifications, and expertise to carry out their roles and responsibilities on the particular ISSL Standard for which they were selected. The Advisory Board serves as the decision-making body. The roles and responsibilities of the board, program director, seminar instructors and mentors are clearly defined. Seminar instructors and mentors are practicing professionals. This is one of the many strengths of the Academy.

A review of literature consistently states the need for cohort members to be taught and supported by practicing professionals who are actively involved with the professional world of practice in PK-12 schools. The seminar instructors and mentors of the Academy have developed strong relationships, programs, and projects with colleagues in the area and throughout the state. They have working relationships with national associations, experts, and learning laboratories. They participate in developing presentations, conducting pilot projects, and working with professional organizations. They deeply value a strong theoretical basis, and continuously demonstrate and model exemplary teaching and learning practices. They are knowledgeable, lifelong learners. One of the planned strengths of the program is to use Academy graduates as mentors as they become more knowledgeable and expert in the program requirements and trained in research and best practices. A continuing goal of the Academy is to have more diversity among cohort members, seminar instructors and mentors.

Districts in northwest Iowa are generally small and rural in nature. The Academy seeks to recruit candidates, seminar instructors and members that better represent the growing diverse population in Iowa. The Academy addresses diversity within the problem based themes and insists that cohort members recognize the diverse needs of students and the communities in which they serve. The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy was self-supporting as of July 1, 2003.

Prairie Lakes AEA serves as the fiscal agent for the Academy with additional support from NWAEA, including, consultant support, facility support, and resource and material support. Program evaluation is essential. There are multiple means of assessing strengths and weaknesses from all stakeholders, including rubrics for evaluation of seminar instructors and mentors, portfolios, and observations, and on-line system for managing candidate progress is also in the developmental stage. The system will allow the Program Director, seminar instructors, mentors, and cohort members to develop and access electronic portfolios for monitoring individual progress.

The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy is not the typical principal preparation-training program. It is exceptionally challenging and the work is rigorous. For twenty-four months, cohort members are immersed in developing the problem-based themes that require action research and study, data collection and disaggregation, attending seminars conducted by expert practitioners and are engaged in problem-solving, and reflection. The program meets all the requirements of the Iowa Code, including the content found in current principal preparation programs – but none is accomplished in isolated courses. Instead, the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by administrators, as defined by the Iowa Standards for School Leaders is woven into the six-project-based learning themes.

The Iowa Principal Leadership Academy highly values theory, research and best practice and continues to use the research that state and national leaders provide, as will the seminar leaders who deliver the content and support the cohort members. When cohort members complete the program requirements and meet licensure requirements, they will continue to receive the support of the seminar instructors and mentors, and are expected to continuously self-assess and monitor their own progress as well as submit a rubric and reflective journal as an acting supervisor/administrator. What began as a pilot program has become an exciting and exemplary principal preparation program that provides cohort members with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to be the successful leaders the children of the great state of Iowa deserve.

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