Local school administrators went back to school on Oct. 8 as students at the University of Richmond's Next Generation Leadership Academy.
Principals, assistant principals, administrative interns and teachers from the Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties and the City of Richmond have been coming to the university for monthly classes since the academy began in 2005 to learn about leadership, said Tom Shields, a professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies and director for the Center of Education in Leadership.
The majority of the participants are assistant principals, said Jo Lynne DeMary, director of the Center for School Improvement at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"So what their school system is looking to do is make an additional investment in their uncertainty and knowledge of leadership so that they will be prepared," she said.
Shields was also a founder of the program. It started originally in the Chesterfield County public school system, he said, and when it went well it was extended to the other school districts.
The following year, Shields said, they applied and received a grant to run NGLA with participants from all four school districts. When the grant expired after a year, the program started to expand, mostly with the creation of EduLead, a partnership between Richmond and VCU.
Although NGLA is run by Richmond officials, the two schools are equal participants in EduLead, said DeMary, who used to be the state superintendent for public instruction.
Shields said when EduLead was formed, he and DeMary began to look for corporate sponsors, because they wanted funding to expand the number of programs they could create under EduLead, in addition to NGLA.
This year, NGLA has 51 school administrators enrolled. The participants are not chosen by the university but rather by the separate school divisions, Shields said. The methods used to choose them vary from county to county, he said, although there is one standard application the university provides.
"They have to write essays and answer questions and talk about how the academy itself will enhance their goals," DeMary said. "I think it's a very thoughtful application process because in between sessions they also are involved with BlackBoard exercises, questions and responding to certain things they've heard."
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She also said the number of people they could pick was proportional to the size of the school district.
The kick-off for this year's NGLA was Oct. 8, with DeMary as the keynote speaker. The participants meet monthly, she said, from November through April. They take a break during May, she said, and returned in June for a book discussion with an author that they have read about during the academy.
She gave a description of an average day at the academy, which consisted of learning about theories of leadership, such as group dynamics, ethics and leading change. This happens during the morning and administrators from the four divisions are mixed in together.
"In the afternoon," DeMary said, "they actually come together with people in their own school division so that they can talk about their own culture as it relates to these topics."
Shields said he would be teaching November's session, titled "What is Leadership?" with Cathy Fisher, director of the teacher licensure program at the university.
Most of the sessions are taught by Jepson faculty, he said, but faculty members from other areas, such as the School of Continuing Studies or the Robins School of Business, occasionally teach the courses.
Besides the NGLA, EduLead had other programs planned, including a new one this fall on "blending coaching," Shields said. Retired principals, the "coaches," are paired up with first-year principals to help them during their first year. Unlike NGLA, this program will be run primarily by VCU.
Shields said that in addition to the leadership skills the participants are learning, there had been other benefits. One is the involvement it allows the university to have with the outside community. He also said he thought it had strengthened the bond among the counties, which he said had been more separate and non-communicative with each other before the program.
The four school divisions have been satisfied with the success of NGLA, and Shields said he thought it would continue to be run in coming years.
"They keep on coming back and wanting to renew the program everywhere, so they're obviously seeing something in it, too."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Hyman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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