It's back to school for principals, too


Program prepares new administrators for the job ahead :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of John Randolph Zoila Garcia worked with Alfonso Valtierra, the principal at Galileo Scholastic Academy, last year as part of her training with New Leaders.

Last year, Zoila Garcia packed her bags and went to Washington, D.C., where she attended class, did her homework and lived in a dorm.

While she may seem to have more in common with her college-age daughter, Garcia's classes weren't aimed at getting an undergraduate degree. They were aimed at getting a new job. Garcia is now the newly appointed principal of Whittier Elementary School in Chicago and a recent graduate of New Leaders for New Schools, a national principal training program.

New Leaders works to prepare educators for principal positions in urban schools, says Ben Fenton, executive director for Chicago's program. It started in 2001 in New York and Chicago, and now includes schools in Washington, D.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Oakland, Calif.

To date, all of the graduates from the Chicago program have been offered jobs in Chicago Public Schools, says Fenton. Garcia was one of more than 200 applicants for New Leaders in Chicago, although the program accepted only 21 applicants in 2004, says Fenton. The Chicago candidates graduated this summer. Foruteen others graduated in 2003 and seven in 2002, says Fenton.

The program tries to match the number of admitted candidates to the needs of the school district, Fenton says. "There is just a significant need for a new volume of principals," Fenton says, since many current principals will reach retirement age in the next few years.

The program also is limited by the number of residency spots available and its high admission standards, Fenton says.

As part of the training process, Garcia spent six weeks in Washington, D.C., with the other 55 New Leaders trainees from around the country. They attended class six days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then dispersed to various cities to work for a year with an established principal.

Garcia spent the 2003-2004 school year working with the principal at Galileo Scholastic Academy in Chicago, where she helped make decisions and received a hands-on experience, she says. "For me it's been the best preparation program that I could have had," she says.

Before being hired as principal at Whittier Elementary, Garcia spent 12 years teaching at Inter-American Magnet School, a dual-language school. She first thought about becoming a principal after the principal of Inter-American announced plans to retire. Garcia says she still thinks of herself as a teacher and is eager to start her new position. "I feel very confident," she says. Alissa Calabrese

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