principles of survival

City's Leadership Academy looks beyond the five boroughs

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Administrators from Greece Central School District this week during a training session facilitated by the NYC Leadership Academy. Since 2009, the academy has expanded nationally as opportunities in New York City shrank. (Credit: GCSD Twitter)

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.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.