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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”