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School district executive leaders from across Delaware participate in team building activities during the launch of the Executive Leadership Academy, a branch of the Governor’s Institute for School Leadership.

UD supports Delaware district-level leaders in partnership with Delaware Department of Education

Principal supervisors, curriculum directors and other district-level leaders play an important role in coaching principals in their work to foster positive learning environments, guide teachers and improve student outcomes. In Delaware, these executive leaders also work to develop and enact important policies related to learning and instruction, equity and inclusion and community engagement across all schools in their district.

The work of these executive leaders is no small feat. In an effort to support them, the University of Delaware’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and the Delaware Governor’s Office launched the Executive Leadership Academy (ELA) on Jan. 27 in partnership with Delaware public schools. As a branch of the Governor’s Institute for School Leadership, the ELA provides executive leaders with professional learning and networking opportunities that enable them to fulfill the broad responsibilities of their positions.

“Our College is delighted to continue its partnership and collaboration with the DDOE, Delaware Governor’s Office and Delaware public schools through our new ELA for district-level leaders,” said Gary Henry, dean of CEHD and professor in CEHD’s School of Education and the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration. “With attention to all schools and instructional practices within a district, these executive leaders serve as important mentors for our principals throughout the state and are often instrumental in enacting and supporting policies related to school improvement, teacher and leader retention, diversifying the educator workforce and improving student outcomes. The outcomes that these professionals strive for are also priorities for our College, and we are proud to support them through the ELA.”

College of Education and Human Development Dean Gary T. Henry delivers opening remarks at the launch event of the Executive Leadership Academy.

Led by UD experts in the Delaware Academy for School Leadership (DASL), housed within CEHD’s School Success Center, the ELA offers professional learning informed by research, practice and the national standards for educational leadership.

“The principal supervisor and other executive leaders are instrumental components to our principal pipeline,” said Andrea Thompson, DDOE education associate for school leadership. “After higher education or other principal preparation programs, these executive leaders are charged with the rest of their professional development, ensuring that principals have the opportunity to utilize their professional skills, build their capacity and progress in their roles.”

Through virtual learning sessions and in-person weekend retreats, Amy Grundy, program coordinator and senior educational leadership specialist, and her DASL colleagues Kevin Fitzgerald and Le Roy Whitehead will offer sessions on coaching, decision-making, leading change in school improvement work and navigating policy and politics, among other topics.

As a former principal in Christina School District, manager of school turnaround in Red Clay Consolidated School District (RCCSD) and director of elementary school operations in RCCSD, Grundy keenly understands the challenges that executive leaders face and the broad scope of their roles. Fitzgerald, former superintendent of Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware, and Whitehead, former assistant superintendent of Phoenixville Area School District in Pennsylvania, will similarly bring their experience to bear.

The Executive Leadership Academy is made possible through the UD College of Education and Human Development School Success Center (SSC) and Delaware Academy for School Leadership’s (DASL) partnership with the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and Delaware public schools. From left to right: Kevin Fitzgerald, DASL senior educational leadership specialist, Faith Muirhead, SSC director, Mark Holodick, DDOE secretary of education, Andrea Thompson, DDOE education associate for school leadership, Alison Travers, DASL senior educational leadership specialist, and Dave Santore, DASL senior associate director.

The program will also offer a special focus on instructional leadership, recognizing that executive leaders play a critical role in supporting the development of teaching and learning.

Thompson worked with DASL to develop the program with this need in mind.

“One of the problems we’ve had over the years is that people at the district level have been bogged down with operations and management to the point where instructional leadership for principals has been neglected,” Thompson said. “Therefore, in the ELA, we plan on building their capacity in this area, teaching them how to navigate the broader scope of their job and making instructional leadership a priority.”

Faith Muirhead, director of CEHD’s School Success Center, also emphasized that the new program will help executive leaders and the principals they coach address the continued challenges of the pandemic.

“The launch of the ELA comes at a fortuitous time,” Muirhead said. “The work of a principal has always involved the daily management of extraordinary events, yet the sheer scale of the challenges of the last few years has launched principals into a new world of crisis management. These school leaders deserve supervisors and other executive leaders who can help them sift through the competing priorities with the trust of their communities intact while making decisive instructional leadership decisions.”

A valuable network of district leaders

The ELA will also give its participants a valuable network of district leaders from across the state.

“A big part of the ELA is building connections, so we will be spending intentional time developing trusting relationships among all participants and facilitators in the program,” Grundy said. “Our goal is to create a network of current or aspiring executive leaders and engage them in activities that are targeted not only at solving real-time issues, but also at strengthening their capacity for leadership across district responsibilities.”

Mark Holodick addresses participants of the Executive Leadership Academy, affirming DDOE’s commitment to the professional development of Delaware’s executive leaders.

The program’s first cohort includes 10 executive leaders with diverse responsibilities, including principal supervisors, a curriculum director, a financial officer and seasoned principals who are serving as mentors to assistant principals.

“We believe that engaging with leaders from different educational contexts and with different perspectives will strengthen people’s practice and capacity as district leaders,” Grundy said.

Launching the Executive Leadership Academy

On Jan. 27, DASL launched the ELA in an on-campus event that welcomed the first cohort, set the context for the program and engaged the participants in initial self-reflection and team-building activities.

In addition to DASL staff, Henry and key members of the DDOE attended the event and addressed participants, including Thompson, Director of Educator Excellence Michael Saylor and Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick.

In his opening remarks, Henry welcomed the participants and affirmed CEHD’s commitment to supporting school and district leaders throughout Delaware.

Holodick expressed his excitement about the program, placing the ELA within the context of Delaware teacher and leader retention, and similarly affirmed the DDOE’s commitment to the professional development of Delaware’s executive leaders.

Learn more about the Governor’s Institute for School Leadership and the ELA through the program website.

Read this article on UDaily.

Photos by Evan Krape and Shelly Silva.