WMU News

Educational leadership program lands special funding

April 12, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- A new $50,000 grant from the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds will help Western Michigan University groom more school administrators through its Leadership Academy, an award-winning program that takes classroom teachers and ushers them into school management.

Dr. Van Cooley and Dr. Jianping Shen will co-direct the Leadership Academy, which launches its next session May 1 at the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency.

"The Wallace grant will help with our funding for two years, and will enable us to lower tuition while attracting more students," says Dr. Van Cooley, chairperson of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership in WMU's College of Education. "And given the budget crunch, this is coming at a great time for the students, their schools and for WMU."

The Leadership Academy, launched in 1988, helps train teachers to become school administrators. Participants attend workshops at WMU and commit to an 80-hour internship under the supervision of a principal or assistant principal. At the end the program, educators must present a portfolio demonstrating their understanding of 13 specialty areas, including school law, special education and school-community relations.

About 85 teachers have gone through the academy and 80 percent of them say they want to continue pursuing careers in educational leadership, Cooley says. "But even for those who complete the academy and say 'This is not what I want to do,' the program has given them a taste of what administration is all about."

Because more veteran principals and superintendents are retiring than ever before, programs like the Leadership Academy are crucial to attracting and grooming talented school administrators.

"In many cities, there are schools that can't find principals," Cooley notes. "And leadership positions are extremely hard to fill. A large percentage of teachers and superintendents are retiring.

It's a difficult job, and with the political challenges of being in administration, some young teachers are saying they don't know if it's worth it. Being a principal is definitely a 75-hour a week job in most circles. We have to attract the best and brightest to fill these positions."

The grant is part of the Wallace Funds' Ventures in Leadership program, the goal of which is to help nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations and public schools around the country test innovative ideas for improving educational leadership. Through December 2001, Ventures in Leadership awarded about 50 fast-track grants of up to $50,000 each for ideas that offer promising approaches for attracting, training and supporting principals and superintendents to improve student achievement.

Ventures in Leadership is part of LEADERS Count, a national initiative by the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds to place quality leadership at the core of school reform and to build a new field of knowledge that helps improvements spread on a broader scale. The objectives of LEADERS Count are to attract and place a broader pool of able candidates for school leadership, to strengthen the abilities of principals and superintendents to improve learning, and to create conditions that allow principals and superintendents to perform as effective leaders.

"We are pleased to offer Ventures in Leadership awards that will bring innovative approaches to the way we view and respond to the crisis in educational leadership," says Mary Lee Fitzgerald, director of education programs at the Wallace Funds. "We believe that these ideas will foster new partnerships between states, communities, schools and districts that will ultimately result in improved student achievement."

For information about Ventures Fund grants, visit the Wallace Funds Web site at <www.wallacefunds.org> or contact Jessica Schwartz, senior communications officer, Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds, at (212) 251-9711.

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.

Media contact: Gail H. Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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