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Fourth Aspiring Principals Academy under way


Members of the fourth Aspiring Principals Academy cohort get to work on the first day of the five-week summer intensive.

Wednesday marked the first day of the fourth annual Aspiring Principals Academy and, for the participants, the first step on a long journey outside their comfort zone.

Nine people from varying backgrounds met for the first time to begin a five-week "summer intensive" designed to mold them into the kind of principals CMSD children need. The boot camp is part of a yearlong District program that creates a pipeline for successful principals -- if they can make it through the year.

Designed in partnership with the NYC Leadership Academy, Aspiring Principals prepares participants with leadership potential to transform schools in Cleveland. A small, selective cohort develops their skills in change management and instructional leadership through a residency that gives them a year of on-the-job training at a CMSD school.

The goal, as Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon told the cohort on their first day, is to develop leaders who will put Cleveland’s children first.

“Our expectation is that the kids we serve will get the leaders they deserve,” Gordon said. “Their interest is the only interest that matters. We’ve got to get it right for kids.”

The nine, including five who previously worked for the District, were picked from a pool of over 200 applicants. This year’s group has more participants who belong to racial minorities than ever before.

The summer intensive, or boot camp, which takes place at the East Professional Center, is the first of the academy's three phases. Led by former Tremont Montessori Principal Heather Grant, the summer curriculum simulates the actual challenges of a Cleveland Metropolitan School District principal, from creating a budget to developing a school improvement strategy to supporting teachers with professional development.

On day one, the participants met Gordon, Chief Academic Officer Michelle Pierre-Farid and some “school staff members” who are actually CMSD employees playing roles such as administrative assistants and union leaders. An important part of the program, Grant said, is to help the aspiring principals develop the skills necessary to work with individuals that they did not choose.

Throughout the summer, the cohort will also dive into deep conversations about race and equity in education, Grant said. 

Participants who complete the boot camp will serve an eleven-month, school-based residency under the mentorship of an experienced CMSD principal, earning a $75,000 salary with benefits. They will perform the duties of a principal at their mentor’s school and receive coaching from both the mentor and the program facilitators.

This year, for the first time, some graduates of the Aspiring Principals Academy are acting as mentors, Grant said.
The third phase, for those who make it through the residency, is making the transition to the role of a CMSD school principal -- this time, without the training wheels. Those who participate in the academy are not guaranteed a principalship, but the majority typically get hired after completing an interview like any other applicant. In the last three years, 60 percent of Aspiring Principals graduates became CMSD principals; 10 percent were hired as assistant principals.

Gordon attested to the quality of the academy's graduates.


“Unlike other new principals, they haven’t come in and made rookie mistakes,” he said. “They’ve already had experiences, exemplar mentors, and they’ve already made mistakes with a safety net in place.”

Cohort member Heather Johnson spent the past two years teaching middle-school English at CMSD's H. Barbara Booker School. For her, the program offers a chance to make a bigger impact on students.

“I loved what I was doing in the classroom, but I started to get a heart for not just my kids, but all the kids,” she said. “When I started taking on leadership roles, I was exposed to what was happening in the whole school and I found myself wanting to be part of that.”

Others, like Vincent Laporte, are new to the District and excited to be part of the changes happening here. Laporte, who hails from New York City, recently earned his master’s degree at Cleveland State University while working as a physical education teacher in the Aurora School District.

“A lot of what’s included in The Cleveland Plan aligns with my philosophy of education and where I see myself as a leader,” Laporte said. “Here at CMSD, I’ll have the opportunity to be a part of something groundbreaking, something that’s going to change the lives of many kids, and do it with autonomy.”

Aspiring Principals participants are evaluated on a pass-fail basis. Graduates commit to serving the CMSD schools for a minimum of five years.