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«A School-University Partnership in Administrator Preparation: Learnings and Subsequent Questions Margaret R. Basom San Diego State University & Diane ...»

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Margaret R. Basom & Diane M. Yerkes

Educational Leadership and Administration

A School-University Partnership

in Administrator Preparation:

Learnings and Subsequent Questions

Margaret R. Basom

San Diego State University

& Diane M. Yerkes

University of San Diego

Abstract: School university partnerships have become important

in the reform efforts to develop the next generation of school

leaders. This study examines one university’s approach of work-

ing with several school districts as partners in the development of school leaders. Findings include benefits and concerns from the perspective of students, faculty, and adjunct instructors.

Introduction Included in the challenges facing education today is “the dual problem of how to improve the quality of school administrators and how to attract more qualified applicants for positions in school leadership” (Price, 2004, p. 36). The Sylvan-AASA principal preparation program, the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) Leadership Initiative, and the efforts of the State Action for Educational Leadership Prepara- tion (SAELP) are examples of changes occurring in the field of leadership preparation to address these challenges.

Volume 16, Fall 2004 47 A School-University Partnership Educational leadership faculty find themselves wondering what role university preparation programs will play in these new programs. Blair (2004) and Young (2003) reported that the role of institutions of higher education in the preparation and continuing education of teachers and principals remains under fire. Young described a widespread assump- tion that institutions of higher education are not doing their jobs and that educators are not adequately preparing leaders for the nation’s schools.

In addition, many states are moving away from university-based pro- grams as a pre-requisite for an administrative credential (National Center for Education Information, 2004).

The National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Lead- ership (NCALP) met recently to grapple with higher education’s role in school leadership programs (Hull, 2003). Recommendations from this meeting included suggestions for the preparation of school leaders in the areas of “university-stakeholder partnerships, program content and deliv- ery, program evaluation and accountability, university institutional fac- tors, and policy” (p. 14). A forthcoming California report (CSU Presidents’ Task Force on Education Leadership Programs, 2004), based on a state- wide Task Force study, makes ten recommendations for improving lead- ership preparation; two of which speak to partnerships between universi- ties and school districts and specifically mention the need for collaborative design, delivery, and support of educational leadership programs.

In response to a perceived lack of connection between university preparation programs for teachers and administrators and the field, some universities have initiated partnerships with local school districts to strengthen programs and provide greater relevance to the work in schools and to increase the number of qualified candidates for the principalship (Whitaker & Barnett, 1999). Hoyle (2003) would agree that such partnerships are necessary. He contends that in developing future school executives, universities need, among other ideas, to include school districts in the selection of students, to focus the curriculum on actual school data, and to include assignments that are centered on improving student learning.

Citing an example of such work, Kottkamp (2003) noted that Hofstra University’s educational leadership program attaches each learning community to a partner school district, in which the “partner district leaders participate in classes and classes convene in the district” (p. 19), and that real district problems become part of the curriculum.

As with any approach to preparing leaders, school-university coalitions have advantages and challenges. This article addresses the emerging trend of schools and universities working together in meeting the challenges of joint preparation of school leaders. The characteristics of school-university partnerships nationally are explored, data collected

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from existing school district-university partnerships in principal preparation are reported, and finally, questions for future research of interest to university faculty and district partners are suggested.

Characteristics of School-University Partnerships The National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Leadership programs (Hull, 2003) recommended that College of Education Deans and Department of Education officials collaborate in identifying and adopting essential characteristics of partnerships that support effective leadership preparation. The Commission suggested supporting the collaboration of university faculty and leaders from school districts in program planning, program delivery, and course delivery by facultypractitioner teams as well as recommending internship development and joint supervision of future leaders.

Many of these school-university partnerships have come to be known as grow-your-own efforts. Features of these programs include use of cohort models, district input on selection of candidates, jointly designed curriculum and instruction, on-site delivery of courses, formal mentoring, and the use of practitioners-scholars as instructors in the program (Whitaker & Barnett, 1999).

As more and more university and school districts develop partnerships for preparing school leaders, questions have emerged regarding which features are most effective within these partnership arrangements. The literature reveals few research studies on the topic. In a review of business and educational partnerships, Grobe, Curnan, and

Melchior (1990) reported that successful partnerships:

◆ Involve top-level leadership in decisions;

◆ Develop programs that are grounded in the needs of the community;

◆ Create an effective public relations campaign;

◆ Establish clear roles and responsibilities of each partner;

◆ Employ strategic planning and develop long-term goals;

◆ Utilize effective management and staffing structures;

◆ Ensure that shared decision making and local ownership occur;

◆ Provide shared recognition and credit for all personnel involved;

◆ Commit resources that are appropriate and well-timed;

◆ Provide intensive technical assistance;

◆ Create formal written agreements; and ◆ Are patient with the change process and gradually expand the involvement of others.

Volume 16, Fall 2004 49 A School-University Partnership Michelle Young (2003), Executive Director of the University Council for Educational Administration, has written of the need to link leadership preparation to student learning and noted that some research is being undertaken to that end (Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2003). Young suggested that, until such research is further along, there are certain

known components that make a program effective. These include having:

◆ Professional development of faculty;

◆ An advisory board of practitioners;

◆ Involvement of practitioners in planning, teaching, field internships, and mentoring;

◆ Alignment of program to best practices in leadership preparation (e.g., adult learning principles, problem-based learning, authentic assessment, mentoring);

◆ Coherent program design and delivery; and ◆ Development of program around a set of standards (e.g., ISLLC). (p. 6) Again, an emphasis on practitioners as advisors, planners, teachers, and mentors is apparent. Trachtman (as cited in Grobe, Curnan & Melchior, 1990) suggested that identifying true partnerships will entail answering the question, “Who benefits from the arrangement?” (p. 6). If the answer is not all parties, then the arrangement is not a true partnership. Meeting short-term needs, such as ameliorating the shortage of principals, without a strong basis for the program and a commitment for ongoing work from the partners, may result in a program without an appropriate foundation and support. Such programs typically will not endure.

An Example of a School-University Partnership

Believing it was time for universities to join with school districts to improve leadership preparation, a university system office provided incentives to include practitioners in the work of educational leadership programs with grants to five campuses from 2001 to 2003. The stated purpose of the grants was to help solve a principal shortage, to assist districts in growing-their-own, and to encourage university faculty to work more closely with the field. Each campus was to join with school districts to develop future school leaders.

Pilot Program One of the universities in the system began an education administra

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tion collaborative program with K-12 partners. The collaborative began with a pilot program consisting of an elementary and a high school district, 25 students, three university faculty, and four adjunct faculty/

district personnel in 2001-2002 (Basom & Yerkes, 2004). The key characteristics of the collaborative, which had consistent, open communications in planning and instructional delivery as hallmarks included:

◆ The College of Education Dean initiated the program in conjunction with the school district superintendents and faculty. The program coordinator met with participating superintendents and administrators to conceptualize and design the program.

◆ Based on an assessment of leadership capabilities and potential, candidates were recommended by administrators in their districts. Students were also required to meet the university and department entrance criteria.

◆ District administrators and retired administrators served as university fieldwork supervisors. They worked closely with a small group of district employees in a mentoring role. They also monitored the students’ evolving educational platforms and portfolios, guiding students and providing feedback as the students developed and learned during the program.

◆ District superintendents and assistant superintendents taught in the program. Classes were held in district facilities.

◆ Course curricula were planned and taught jointly by professors and key district administrators. Professors and administrators met weekly to plan class sessions and develop any necessary mid-course corrections.

◆ Collaboration between district administrators and the university professors served to ensure alignment of the program curriculum with national and state standards for school leaders.

◆ Districts provided guest speakers on topics such as school curriculum, student assessment, and local children’s services.

Addressing specific district foci enriched the curriculum.

◆ Cohort building activities were included to give students, as well as their faculty and administrators, opportunities to become a learning community.

◆ Feedback was provided to students on a regular basis to ensure their success in the program.

Volume 16, Fall 2004 51 A School-University Partnership ◆ Students had an opportunity to get to know and talk with their district administrators each week for two semesters.

◆ The program gave district administrators a chance to see their employees in action in many and varied situations, thus providing them with considerable information in terms of future administrative hiring.

Positive indications and preliminary survey data from students and district personnel encouraged the continuation and expansion of the program. To date, 11 of the first 25 students have been selected for administrative positions and three have served for extended periods as interim principals.


In the second year, 2002-2003, two cohorts began and two off-campus sites served as classrooms. Eleven districts participated and 42 students were enrolled. During that year, two university faculty and 11 adjunct faculty/district personnel coordinated, planned, taught, and mentored.

Student fees made the program self-supporting, as state funding was no longer available. To date, 14 students from one cohort have been promoted to leadership positions and in the other cohort, three have been promoted and one served as summer school principal.

In the third year, 2003-2004, there were again two cohorts: one cohort involved six districts, 25 students, three adjunct faculty/district personnel and one full-time university lecturer. The second cohort involved four school districts, 27 students, two adjunct faculty/district personnel, and two university faculty.

Program Evaluation

Initial efforts at evaluation seem to indicate program success in that several students have found administrative positions, districts wish to continue the collaboration, and applicants still number many more than can be accommodated. Of course, long-term effects, particularly on student learning, are still to be seen. Survey and interview data have provided additional information on which the planners will depend for further refinement.

Surveys were used to collect data from students, adjunct faculty, and university faculty who had participated in some way in the partnership programs. In the summers of the first two years, surveys were given to students in their classes and then collected and analyzed. In the first 52 Educational Leadership and Administration Margaret R. Basom & Diane M. Yerkes year, surveys were also given to faculty and adjunct faculty. In the second year, a conversation, based on a series of questions, was held with faculty in one cohort. The researchers were particularly interested in the benefits and challenges of the program as they were identified from the perspective of faculty and adjuncts as well as students.


The benefits as reported by students far outweighed any challenges or concerns. Faculty responses were mixed. Students and district adjuncts unanimously requested that the university continued its support of the program. The following list delineates some of the mentioned benefits and challenges as perceived by students and faculty. Each area is explored separately.

Benefits from Students’ Perspectives

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