September 20, 2012

Master's program produces transformational school leaders

Posted: September 20, 2012
iLeadAZ students
Recent iLeadAZ graduates (from left) Lucia Raz, Theresa Nickolich and Alicia Berzins share their experiences with members of the incoming cohort. Raz and Nickolich have begun new assignments as principals in the Phoenix Elementary School District and Osborn School District, respectively, while Berzins serves as a school improvement specialist and master teacher in the Mesa Unified School District.

As the third cohort of ASU’s iLeadAZ aspiring principals program begins its initial full semester of work, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is celebrating an impressive record of placing recent iLeadAZ graduates into leadership positions in Arizona schools.

iLeadAZ is designed to produce school leaders who can make an immediate positive impact on high-needs schools. Of the 16 educators who completed the program in August, eight are now serving as principals or assistant principals, while eight are in other leadership positions.

Teachers College has worked with 17 partner school districts across the Valley and state to identify iLeadAZ candidates who have demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to transforming Arizona’s high-needs schools. Among the current partner districts are Mesa Public Schools, the Cartwright, Gadsden and Roosevelt Elementary School Districts, and the Chinle, Tucson and Kingman Unified School Districts. Casa Grande Union High School District also is a current partner.

“During these days of high-stakes accountability in education, the importance of hiring the right people who are going to be both the operational and instructional leaders of our schools is truly magnified,” said Myriam Roa, superintendent of the Phoenix Elementary School District, another iLeadAZ partner. “Finding the right fit for the community of students, parents, teachers and support staff is crucial to effect and sustain school performance. The iLeadAZ program has worked well for our district for the last two years, with both iLeadAZ teachers being recommended and selected for principal positions.”

One of those principals is Anthony Pietrangeli, who has provided leadership at Heard Elementary School as the school has made significant improvements in its evaluations from the Arizona Department of Education.

“I cannot name the silver bullet that made this happen, but I am confident that it was a combination of strategies and activities that I learned during the iLeadAZ program,” Pietrangeli said.

iLeadAZ is a highly selective 15-month leadership development program that places participants in internships at schools for a full academic year, under the guidance of a mentor principal. Students also take online and hybrid courses leading to a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision with principal concentration. The cohort that began work this summer includes 16 students from nine partner districts.

“We have built a strong working relationship with superintendents in our partner districts,” said Kay Coleman, project director for iLeadAZ. “They call and ask us how many of their teachers they can get into the program each year.”

The iLeadAZ curriculum begins with a five-week summer intensive that engages participants in comprehensive simulations grounded in authentic school experiences. They also take part in 10 weekend conferences that extend the summer intensive experience throughout the school year. Their internship during the academic year culminates with them taking over the role of principal for part of the spring semester, with support from their mentor.

“The iLeadAZ program is distinctly different from the typical educational leadership program,” said Coleman. “It is deeply embedded in practice. We strive to help our students understand what it takes to make a school successful in a real-world setting.”

Among the recent graduates in the second cohort is Kathy Ray, who is the new principal at Stevenson Elementary School in the Mesa Unified School District.

“iLeadAZ has been one of the most intensive educational experiences I have ever encountered,” Ray said. “The quality of the instructors has been incredible. They range from retired superintendents, principals, published authors, and communication experts to national presenters and state legislators. The directors of the program are truly committed to significantly increasing student achievement and are inspiring change agents for quality public education.”

“Ultimately iLeadAZ aspires to build stronger communities throughout Arizona by improving educational outcomes for children in high-needs schools,” Coleman said.

The iLeadAZ program is funded by a five-year, $3.6 million U.S. Department of Education School Leadership Grant awarded to Teachers College in 2008. For more information about iLeadAZ, call 602-543-2829 or email ileadAZ@asu.edu.

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Public Affairs at the West campus