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City’s Leadership Academy looks beyond the five boroughs

With its annual class of local principals-to-be shrinking, the New York City Leadership Academy is turning its services away from the five boroughs.

Just 28 students graduated from the Academy last year, down from 75 in the 2006-2007 school year, according to city records. Of those, just 19 were initially hired as principals, the records show.

The academy now works with other districts in New York and across the country , as well as with the state education department here, to help them design principal training programs of their own. In recent years, it has contracted with 24 states and annual revenue from national initiatives has tripled to nearly $1 million, according to the academy’s most recently available tax filings.

“We’ve developed into a national organization,” Irma Zardoya, the academy’s CEO since 2011, said in an interview last week.

The organization’s restructuring comes amid a slump in demand from the city’s Department of Education, which has developed its own program in house, and growth in demand outside of the city from districts without an infrastructure to develop leaders.

The academy launched in 2003 with $15 million in private start-up grants as a signature initiative by then-Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein sought to infuse the city school system with corporate values that emphasized strong leadership, autonomy, and accountability, and the program quickly became the department’s favored training pipeline, eventually accounting for 15 percent of the city’s principals.

The program accepted promising candidates and trained them intensively over 14 months to immediately take over as principals — or in Klein’s words, CEOs — of their schools. The approach at times drew fire from teachers and parents who complained of principals who graduated from the program having oppressive managerial styles.

When the grants ran out in 2009, the city picked up part of the tab, awarding the academy contracts that have paid out $27 million over the last four years, according to the city comptroller’s office. That year, the contract represented 70 percent of the organization’s $9.6 million in revenues, tax filings show.

But its graduate haul diminished significantly in the last several years, from 56 to 2010 to 28 last year. Zardoya said next year’s cohort totals around 20. Much of the academy’s work now centers on coaching about 150 principals annually who are currently working in schools.

Zardoya’s organization is also tasked with helping the city recruit for its own training program, called Leadership in Education Apprenticeship Program, a one-year program that accepts experienced teachers and trains them with help from their current principals. In 2012, LEAP graduated 68 people, 25 of whom were hired as principals, according to the Independent Budget Office.

(A third alternative pathway to becoming a principal, New Leaders, graduated eight in 2011-2012, down from 28 in 2009-2010. Twenty-two percent of all city principals last year graduated from one of the city’s three alternative pathways, according to the IBO.)

Meanwhile, there has been a surge in demand around the country in response to higher priorities to provide better teacher and principal training. It is one of the central reforms of the Race to the Top grants and winning states have increasingly look to outside vendors for help figuring out what that looks like.

The New York State Education Department has worked with the Academy to develop a program in Rochester. Private grants funded a partnership with Buffalo to develop a similar program, though Buffalo later discontinued it after district administrators misused the funds.

More recently, the Academy was picked by Greece Central School District as part of a $1.5 million state grant funded with Race to the Top dollars. The academy was tasked with developing a leadership training curriculum, which the district is using to train 85 administrators and teacher leaders this month, said Greece Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

“It’s not a packaged approach,” Deane-Williams said of the academy’s curriculum. “They actually looked at where we wanted to go as a district and customized to what we’re trying to do.”

The academy still has a presence training educators in New York City and last week Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited one of its programs, the New Principals Institute, which supports first-year principals. At the event, the rookie principals took a break to share concerns they had for the new job.

“My biggest fear is that in Bushwick, we won’t be that beacon of hope that those kids need,” said Kyleema Norman, who became principal of the Academy of Urban Planning this winter. “That whatever it is that those children need right now, that we won’t do that, and we’ll lose a kid.”

Walcott, Klein’s successor who has been a staunch defender of the Bloomberg administration’s policies, including the NYC Leadership Academy, shared some of his own advice based on personal experience.

“You will never satisfy everyone, you may not even satisfy anyone, but at the same time, knowing the implications of your decision-making is always extremely important,” Walcott said. “So even if you piss off the entire world, as long as you have your decision-making factors in place that you’re satisfied with, and you feel, and the people surrounding you feel, it will have a benefit to the system, to your school, then you have to be comfortable with that.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of years of teaching experience required for participants to be admitted to the Academy. Since its inception in 2003, applicants have need a minimum number of three years of teaching.

 Anika Anand contributed reporting.