New program to prepare principals for California's urban schools gets $7.5 million gift from Bay Area philanthropist

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

16 AUGUST 00 | A Berkeley program to provide leadership training for a new generation of public school principals in California is the recipient of a major gift by a Bay Area businessman and philanthropist. Gov. Gray Davis announced the $7.5 million private gift in July to support the Principal Leadership Institute at Berkeley. The program was initiated this summer.

The donation from Kenneth Behring will greatly expand Berkeley's innovative program in the coming years. The institute's goal is to prepare educators to become effective leaders of California's urban schools, where reform and improvement is most needed -- but also most difficult.

Two Principal Leadership Institutes, based at Berkeley and UCLA, were established by the University of California following the governor's call last fall to bring world-class management training to public school principals.

At Berkeley, a 15-month program taught at the Graduate School of Education is working in partnership with three California State University campuses. The 28 students in the inaugural class began their studies in June. They receive scholarships to cover educational fees for their master's degrees and administrator credentials. In return, upon graduation, the students pledge to work four years in a leadership position at a public school.

"If we are to renew the foundations of excellence in California's public schools, then we must start by helping those who daily face the greatest challenges &endash; the principals of our urban schools. With the governor's support and Ken Behring's generous gift, more of our urban schools will receive the leadership they deserve," said Chancellor Berdahl.

The gift establishes the Kenneth E. Behring Institute for Educational Improvement. Over the next 10 years it will help support training for approximately 750 new principals and significantly address the shortage of trained leaders who can develop and implement educational improvement in California's urban public schools.

"I have always felt that there is a great need to support and inspire the leadership within our schools. Today, principals need a broader set of skills and more highly focused training," said Behring, a former owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Bay Area land developer and founder of Wheelchairs for the World Foundation.

"The unified efforts of the state of California, the University of California at Berkeley and the private sector, will develop a significant new training program aimed at preparing reform-oriented leaders, committed first and foremost to improving teaching and learning in their schools," he said.

The principal's program is part of the Urban Education Leadership Program operated jointly by Berkeley and California State University campuses at Hayward, San Francisco and San Jose.

"Schools can't get better without better principals," said Norton Grubb, a Berkeley professor at the Graduate School of Education and faculty coordinator for the Principal Leadership Institute. "You can't put a reform into place if a principal doesn't promote it."

Principals and other leaders need to prepare for urban school difficulties such as higher dropout rates, poor teacher morale and school climates that fail to assign high values to academic achievement, he said.

Multi-disciplinary courses including law, public policy, business and education as well as fieldwork are offered four days a week during the summer. During the regular school year, courses are offered on more flexible schedules, allowing Principal Leadership Institute students, most of them teachers in urban schools, to continue their regular jobs.

Many institute students are "quite senior teachers" with areas of expertise such as bilingual education, the arts, special education, high schools or parent participation, Grubb said. They also have found themselves gravitating into more executive roles, he said, although none are full-time administrators.

Most already work in urban school districts, and that's where they want to stay because they feel that's where they can best influence young students, Grubb said.

Among the school districts represented by students at the institute are San Francisco, Hayward, Oakland, Berkeley, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa. About 100 individuals applied for the program, including prospective participants nominated by principals, teachers and administrators throughout the region. A committee from the Graduate School of Education interviewed the candidates and chose the 28 finalists.

Charles Shannon, a teacher at Glen Cove Elementary School in Vallejo, was among them. He said Glen Cove won honors as a state distinguished school this past year, an honor never before bestowed on a Vallejo school.

"I wouldn't be anywhere but an urban school district," said Shannon, who has taught for 10 years. "As a principal, I can make a greater impact."

Marcus Jamal Fields, who has taught at Golden Gate Elementary in San Francisco's Western Addition for the past three years, filled in as principal for several weeks last December, giving him a taste of what his future might hold. "Schools can be run right and can be changed," he said.

"I know how much difference a good principal makes," said Susan Audap of San Carlos. "And I know what makes a good principal. It's not just chance." Audap's last job was with an American school in Malaysia, but she also spent 10 years teaching in central Los Angeles schools.

Audap said she investigated other principal training programs, but the one at Berkeley was the only one she found that made more than a passing reference to the teaching and learning component of being a principal.

At Berkeley, said Grubb, the program sees principals first as educators rather than as business managers and administrators. The classes focus on four core areas: teaching and learning, educational change and reform, educational organization and management, and urban school issues.



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