Principal Service Program Helps Educational Leaders Raise Their Game

Even before COVID, public schools were under siege. They are being asked to keep students safe from hitherto unimaginable predators, correct all the familial pathologies they bring with them to school, feed them, keep them after school, serve as community focal points and educate children on an ever-increasing amount of human knowledge, often with curricula that date back two centuries and reflect those values. (geometry theorems, anyone?)

Add to that the wrenching decisions schools must make around Covid, and the damage remote learning has done to student performance, and you have a combination of forces designed to drive top administrators to a state of frenzy and near-hysteria.

Recognizing the complexity of running a school, and of a pending principal shortage as Baby Boomers retire in droves, The Citadel’s Zucker Family School of Education in 2019 established the Lowcountry Principal Service Program for K-12 principals and assistant principals in the leadership pipeline. Sessions are held at the Lowcountry Graduate Center and funded by the Lowcountry Graduate Center Opportunity Fund and a Volvo Cars Community Investment Grant.

“The role of a principal has changed dramatically over the past decade,” said program coordinator Dr. Lee Westberry, who also leads the sessions, which are delivered at no cost to the individuals or their school districts. 

Education Leaders Needed This

The establishment of the program followed a survey of principals and superintendents across the state identifying their top needs. They included: use of data to inform instruction, instructional leadership, how to affect cultural change and the development of a systems perspective. The curriculum for the program has been developed with those priorities in mind.

Participants receive credit hours towards recertification with the SC State Department of Education.

Lessons Are Applicable in the School

Virginia Sayer, a former biology teacher and current Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston, has attended the first two of four sessions this academic year and says the lessons learned about taking a systematic approach to data use have had a significant impact on her work in the school. “Through the program, we are able to work through how we use and analyze assessments in professional learning communities,” she said.

Teachers with common content areas meet in these professional learning communities and analyze how to align their assessments to content standards. “Through that work, we are looking at the depth of knowledge that teachers are assessing in students so they can then have collaborative conversations about how to analyze data to inform instruction,” Sayer explained.

The first session Sayer attended covered the power of assessments through lesson planning. The second addressed creating instructional goals. At Stall High, teachers and administrators worked together to establish the goal of improving overall student performance. That revealed the need to create valid and consistent assessments of student performance. The next two sessions, including one in February, will focus on using data to inform instruction in the classroom and at the school level.

“It has been really enlightening for us, going on this journey with teachers to know whether students are learning in our classes every day,” she said.

Lowcountry Graduate Center Offers Central Location

Sayer says meeting with other educational professionals is a significant benefit. Classes of 15-20 have allowed her to establish relationships with educators from around the area, trade best practices, and share common frustrations. The Lowcountry Graduate Center, located on the campus of Trident Technical College, has served as a central meeting point for educators spread from Mt. Pleasant to Ridgeville.

Sayer says the sessions have helped her avoid getting drawn into tactical-level considerations at school and instead focus on systems and culture. “I would definitely recommend the program,” she said. “You’re going to get a birds-eye view of collaboration, and understand how to view school from a different perspective.”

Signups for the next academic year will begin in July by contacting Lee Westberry at [email protected].

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