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A key part of Jefferson County's efforts to develop and support leaders came in 2001 with a grant worth up to $5 million from the New York-based Wallace Foundation to improve leadership.

That money expanded or funded a variety of initiatives: grooming teachers to become principals; connecting principal evaluations to student achievement; improving principals' instructional skills with ongoing training that focuses on specific areas, such as literacy; and offering more mentoring for new principals.

The district also is expanding a yearlong internship program to give aspiring principals real-world experience, and it continues to work with local universities to train district employees who want to seek principal certification.

"There are many districts out there who don't have that kind of system," Peterson, the education professor, said.

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