An innovative partnership to train a new generation of charter school leaders was launched by The Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA), Kennesaw State University (KSU), and Lake Oconee Academy (LOA), a Greene County, GA public charter school. The partnership leverages KSU’s strength as the largest preparer of teachers in Georgia, GCSA’s expertise in advocacy and technical assistance to charter school petitioners, teachers, leaders, and charter boards and Lake Oconee Academy’s outstanding record of leadership and student achievement. Its goal is to dramatically increase Georgia’s pipeline of highly qualified charter school educators, providing research-validated and professionally relevant preparation programs for those who want to teach in, launch and lead highly successful charter schools.
The program will focus on replicating many of the award-winning charter leadership practices of Lake Oconee Academy, a Georgia public charter school and Georgia “Platinum” School for Highest Academic Achievement, in conjunction with a new KSU charter leadership preparation program supported by expertise offered in programming through GCSA. It will prepare thirty (30) highly qualified school leaders who, upon program completion, will possess an Educational Specialist degree in performance-based leadership, hold clear, renewable Georgia leadership certification, and who will provide leadership expertise for the charter sector in Georgia. It is also hoped one-third of the program participants (10 individuals) will ultimately establish new charter schools. In addition, the partnership will create multimedia case studies and other instructional materials, further disseminating Lake Oconee’s leadership practices contributing to increased student achievement.
Candidates selected for the program will be financially supported through their four (4) semester graduate program. Building on educational research in effective leadership, most of the program’s content will be delivered in a residency model at the candidate’s “home” school site, and candidates will be required to demonstrate expertise through job embedded performance projects. Throughout the program, the candidate will receive ongoing performance coaching from educators with expertise in leading and founding charter schools, as well as veteran leaders in the traditional and independent school sectors.
The project is supported by a United States Department of Education Dissemination Grant for promoting research-validated practices in high performing charter schools. The current grant covers the 2012 fiscal year and is anticipated to continue for a second year.
Linda Zechmann, a Georgia State Board of Education member and Charter Committee member, and long-time advocate for quality charter schools, applauds the partnership. “This proposal is wholly consistent with our vision for Georgia charters in Georgia. The partnership will provide Georgia with high quality leaders prepared to lead charters in an educationally and financially efficacious manner, moving toward greater levels of student achievement. I have no doubt that this will contribute to practices than can provide Georgia taxpayers with similar assurances in all Georgia public schools.” Zechmann is particularly optimistic for the potential of disseminating practices that lead to cooperative relationships between charters and traditional public schools: “As beneficiaries of public funds, school district leaders and charters leaders must understand that it is our hope – moreover, our expectation – that they will cooperate to provide Georgia’s children with their best possible future. I hope that the partnership between Lake Oconee Academy’s Board of Directors and Greene County School District Board of Education can serve as a state model.”
The call to action in charter leadership preparation
The development of this charter leadership program is based on response to recognition, validated by data, that charter schools will be facing a “severe shortage of quality school leaders” during the next 5-10 years and the need to build capacity in charter school leaders. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that between 6,000 and 21,000 new charter school leaders will be needed nationwide during the next 10 years. With Georgia as one of the fastest growing environments for charter school development, a significant number of leaders will be needed for the state’s new and existing charter schools.
The National Governors Association (NGA) has noted that the quality of a school’s leaders is the most influential school-based factor affecting school learning, only slightly trailing the quality of a school’s teachers. Further, the NGA notes that “success is highly dependent on the expertise of school directors and charter school board members.”
Kelly Cadman, Vice President of School Services for the Georgia Charter Schools Association underscores the need for the program in Georgia. “Teaching and leading a charter school is a far more entrepreneurial experience than in a traditional school. Charter school leaders face challenges in managing, facilities, finances, personnel and strategic planning, as well as instructional leadership. Traditional leadership development programs offered not only in Georgia, but nationally, have not prepared leaders to handle both instructional leadership and the non-profit business management. This program will ensure that our charter school leaders are highly equipped to deal with all of the demands of leading a high quality charter school. The Association is delighted to participate in partnership with Kennesaw State University and Lake Oconee Academy with providing expertise related to the charter sector and dissemination of this very important program.”
Lake Oconee Academy (LOA), a K-6 Title I charter school where 75% of students qualify for and participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program, demonstrates what can happen when a school puts leadership development at the center.
A culture of investing in leadership
Founded in 2007 in cooperation with the Greene County School District, LOA was created to provide Greene County with an alternative to historically underperforming traditional schools with high dropout rates. Positioning itself as a place of academic rigor and high expectations, the charter school has performed exceptionally well, exceeding all goals set in its charter and exceeding state and district averages. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement conferred its highest award on LOA, recognizing it as a “Platinum” School for Highest Academic Achievement.
Dr. Otho Tucker, the Chief Executive Officer of LOA, attributes much the school’s success to its Professional Development School model for teachers with residency-based pathways for teacher certification. Indeed, the leadership program fits very well with the Professional Development School model. “Our school culture is one that puts great emphasis on investing in teachers and in leadership.” It’s an orientation that has benefits across the board. One hundred percent of LOA parents surveyed rated Lake Oconee Academy’s curriculum either “excellent” or “very good,” and overall satisfaction with the school was 98.7% positive. Importantly – and unusually – LOA has maintained a strong, positive relationship with the Greene County School District, even recently engaging in several collaborative board retreats regarding how the district and the charter can work in tandem to meet the needs of all Greene County students. Tucker adds, “Our Governing Board experienced no turnover in its first 4 years, and we enjoy a strong partnership with our local school district.” In further evidence of the partnership between Greene County Board of Education and LOA, Tucker and Dr. Barbara Pulliam-Davis, Superintendent of Greene County School District, were invited to present at the 2011 Georgia Charter Schools Conference on building and maintaining positive local district-charter relationships.
The power of a university partner
The University “leg” of the partnership brings exceptional power to the partnership including technology, instructional staff, and a large pool of students who may not have considered charter school careers before.
Dr. Mike L. Dishman, Associate Professor and Interim Department Chair in the Department of Educational Leadership for KSU, is pleased by the opportunities presented with the partnership. “As Georgia’s largest preparer of teachers, the Bagwell College of Education prides itself on approaches to teaching, leading and learning that are innovative and student achievement-focused.” Dishman observes that this partnership aligns with that institutional focus: “This partnership seeks to prepare leaders in an environment challenging the long-held belief that charters and traditional schools are adversarial and have little to offer the other. LOA and Greene County School District demonstrate the possibilities for school districts and charters with cooperative, symbiotic relationships, drawing on the other’s strengths. By preparing future school leaders in this environment, we will hopefully do much to dispel the ‘separate-and-segregated’ perception of the charter/traditional public school relationship.”
Dishman particularly emphasizes both the performance-based and coaching components of the program. “We have designed this program in cooperation with the state’s leaders in charter, independent, and traditional schools, seeking to integrate research-validated best practices in educational leadership and organization with meaningful, performance-based experiences for candidates.” Each candidate in the program will complete a multi-semester residency program, guided through application of program material in his or her own school environment by a university supervisor and performance “coach.” “Ultimately, this program endeavors to not only provide candidates with an outstanding preparation for leadership, but their employing schools with access to LOA’s validated practices and policies for increasing student achievement.”
Individuals interested in consideration for participation in the first cohort, anticipated to begin in the summer, should contact Kelly Cadman at email@example.com.