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Aspiring Principals Academy welcomes third class

aspiring principal  
A group of 10 men and women huddled around tables in a classroom at the East Professional Center this week to discuss ways they could improve Maya Angelou School.

The participants in CMSD's third annual Aspiring Principals Academy were talking about challenges faced by the fictional school, which is based on an actual District school, as a part of the rigorous training program for future school leaders. Eight women and two men came from across the country for a five-week "summer intensive" -- the first phase of the yearlong program to prepare future principals for leading CMSD schools.

The members of this year's class were selected from a pool of 124 applicants. The diverse group includes two Spanish speakers, one Arabic speaker and two African-Americans 

Joseph Ciesielski said he came to Cleveland from Oklahoma City because he was excited by the chance to get individualized training that will directly impact children in Cleveland.

“What I saw here is an opportunity where a district is actually doing something for students,” Ciesielski said. “I could have stayed in Oklahoma City Public Schools, where I loved my district and it was a great place, but this district is offering an opportunity to gain supports to really grow as an individual and a professional [who is] going to have great effects on students.”

The Aspiring Principals Academy drew Britt Irvin from New York City after she saw similarities to the NYC Leadership Academy, which helped develop the Cleveland program.

“Having this cohort work together and figure this out, and draw out the strengths and weaknesses from each other -- that was really appealing to me,” Irvin said.

For others, the experience is more personal. Four of the participants were CMSD teachers who are looking to take their careers to the next level.

“As much as I love the classroom, I’ve gotten a lot from CMSD in terms of training and professional development that I feel I can share with other teachers to help make maybe a greater impact than I was making in the classroom,” Michelle Perez said. “So I see it as sort of like an extended opportunity to teach.”

The first week began with the participants getting to know the ins and outs of the made-up school, including meeting teachers and administrators whose roles were played by actual CMSD staff. The faculty spoke about the challenges of working in an urban school district and simulated the sort of tough conversations the participants may encounter as principals.

All the theatrics are part of the preparation for the second phase of the academy: an eleven-month residency where the participants will work under the mentorship of an experienced CMSD principal while earning a $75,000 salary.

If the participants interview successfully for jobs with the District, they will then transition into school leadership positions with the support of a coach during their first year, when they will face the challenges of running a school -- this time for real. A majority of the first two classes' members have obtained jobs as principals or other administrators.

Despite the high standards and rigorous requirements, members of the class say the hands-on experience will prove invaluable if they become a principal. 

“It gave me the opportunity to have collaboration among other people, so we can learn from each other,” said Noriliz Santiago. “If I just applied to a principal position and was placed in it, it would be my first-year experience, and I wouldn’t have that mentor as someone guiding me.”