Wallace Launches Major State-District Initiative to Strengthen School Leadership

January 08, 2002

Wallace Launches Major State-District Initiative to Strengthen School Leadership

15 States, 10 Districts, Will Pioneer New Policies and Practices Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership Will Develop Model Superintendent Training Program


NEW YORK, NY, January 8, 2002 – The Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds have announced the selection of 15 states, and 10 school districts within those states, to be partners in two interrelated initiatives whose goals are to promote national reform of educational leadership. As the centerpiece of the Wallace Funds’ national LEADERS Count initiative, this multi-year, state-district collaboration will focus on developing policies and practices that strengthen the ability of superintendents and principals to improve student learning.

The Funds’ state initiative, State Action for Education Leadership (SAELP), has awarded three-year implementation grants of $250,000 to each participating state. They include: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. The Funds’ district initiative, Leadership for Educational Achievement in Districts (LEAD), has awarded one-year grants, ranging from $527,000 to $1.34 million, to 10 high-need districts located within the SAELP states. The grants are renewable annually for up to a total of $5 million over five years, provided the district demonstrates significant progress toward achieving its goals. LEAD grant recipients include: Atlanta Public Schools (GA), Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), Eugene School District (OR), Fort Wayne Community Schools (IN), Hartford Board of Education (CT), Providence School District (RI), Springfield Public Schools (MA), Springfield School District (IL), St. Louis Public Schools (MO), and Trenton Public Schools (NJ).

“For too long, education leadership has been a missing link in achieving academic excellence for all children,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of the Wallace Funds. “To make the needed changes in the recruitment, preparation and retention of superior leaders, reform has to address both district practices and state regulations and policies. This new state-district initiative is intended to discover and adopt new ways of strengthening leadership, and to have those changes improve the prospects of children in states and districts across the country.”

In a related step, the Funds are providing $1.58 million to the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to design and implement a model program to help school superintendents be effective in an increasingly complex and politicized environment (see accompanying news release on the Harvard grant for full details).

State Action for Education Leadership (SAELP)
SAELP, the Wallace Funds’ state-level initiative, was launched in spring 2001 with $8.9 million in funding. The project is being led by a national consortium consisting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors’ Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the Education Commission of the States. The consortium solicited reform proposals from all 50 states and received 37. In June, following a review by an independent panel, planning grants of $50,000 each were awarded to 15 states. In December, the consortium decided to award implementation grants to all 15 states following a further in-depth, independent review of the states’ plans. SAELP states will establish new requirements for licensing and preparation; provide incentives for recruitment and fellowships; and promote creative, effective working dynamics between principals and school councils, superintendents and district boards that result in better student performance. Working directly with their LEAD school districts and other demonstration sites, they will concentrate on six key areas of activity and knowledge building:

  • Priorities and ways of doing business – assuring that states give high priority to support leadership.
  • The candidate pool – developing state strategies to increase and diversify the pool of candidates for school and district leadership.
  • Education and professional learning – modifying state policies to improve pre-service and professional development programs.
  • Licensure, certification and program accreditation – using state policies to promote better licensing and certification processes for leaders, and improving the accreditation process for higher education-based leadership training programs.
  • Conditions of professional practice – designing and implementing strategies to improve contracting and bargaining practices, salary and compensation programs, performance review processes, and incentive programs for strong leaders.
  • Governance structures – devising state policies and practices to improve the political and governance settings that affect the climate for education leaders.

Leadership for Educational Achievement in Districts (LEAD)
The 10 districts in the Wallace Funds’ LEAD initiative were selected from more than 40 applicants. Plans submitted by the districts underwent extensive review in 2001 by an independent panel of experts, with the Funds making final selections. LEAD districts will play a prominent role in redefining the principalship and superintendency, exploring the connections between leadership and learning, and identifying ways to promote their successes so that practices in other school districts across the country are eventually influenced. Specifically, LEAD districts will seek to promote change in the following areas:

  • State policy – working with states to implement policies affecting leadership, from selection and certification to professional learning and governance.
  • Local policy and practice – working with school boards to define policies in such areas as recruitment, retention, evaluation, incentives and contracts.
  • Academic and community partnerships – working with universities to influence the training and selection of aspiring leaders, as well as with local business leaders, community-based organizations, and parents.
  • Building capacity – developing targeted organization learning through networks, coaching and induction programs; looking at distributed leadership structures.
  • Continuous improvement – analyzing performance data and assess academic programs and the quality of classroom/school practice.
  • Resources – allocating human, financial and intellectual resources in line with leadership and learning goals.
  • Focus – defining student learning as the district’s primary priority.
  • Accountability – creating a system so leaders can review student performance against standards.

“Superintendents and principals are often hampered by state mandates and bureaucracies in their efforts to effect changes that will improve student learning,” stated Mary Lee Fitzgerald, the Wallace Funds’ director of education programs. “Through our state-district work, LEAD districts can help state policymakers understand the role that superintendents and principals play in raising all students to higher academic achievement. SAELP states can review and revise policies, with their LEAD districts serving as laboratories of learning and innovation. The collaborative efforts of our SAELP states and LEAD districts, along with other academic, business and community partners, will put leadership at the core of school reform.”

The state-district initiatives are part of LEADERS Count, a 5-year, $150-million commitment by the Wallace Funds to place quality leadership at the core of school reform and to build a new field of knowledge that helps improvements spread on a broader scale. The objectives of LEADERS Count are to attract and place a broader pool of able candidates for school leadership, to strengthen the abilities of principals and superintendents to improve learning, and to create conditions that allow principals and superintendents to perform as effective leaders.


For Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds: Jessica Schwartz, Senior Communications Officer, 212-251-9711; jschwartz@wallacefunds.org
For SAELP Consortium, Kathleen Neary, Communications Associate, Council of Chief State School Officers, 202-336-7050; kathleenn@ccsso.org
For Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University: Doug Gavel, Communications Officer, 617-495-8290; doug_gavel@harvard.edu