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Lehigh unveils $3 million Philadelphia High School Leadership Project



Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Lehigh President Alice P. Gast discuss the Philadelphia High School Leadership Project.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Lehigh President Alice P. Gast joined prominent officials from across the tri-state region July 15 to unveil a new partnership to develop the next generation of leaders in Philadelphia’s lowest achieving, urban public high schools.

“I have a 14-year-old daughter, and I know what today’s kids are like, so I ask that you all please, please pray for these principals,” Nutter said to a room full of laughter before striking a more serious tone.

“I want this to be the centerpiece about what the future of Philadelphia must be about,” Nutter added, before turning to a handful of educators in the room. “You have done something special for yourselves, and you have a lot of help and support.”

Funded by a $3,029,229 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Philadelphia High School Leadership Project (PHSLP) will offer a customized graduate education experience and professional development training program for 60 aspiring school leaders over the course of the next five years. The program will build a bench of effective leaders in Philadelphia’s comprehensive public high schools that have already been identified for improvement for corrective action under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law.

The first 14 school leader protégés—dubbed “The Magnificent 14” by Nutter—were announced during the Philadelphia City Hall event by George White, director of the Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders at Lehigh’s College of Education. The protégés started their training on July 7, 2009, and will assume Philadelphia comprehensive high school administrator positions beginning in September 2010. At that time, some of the participants who successfully complete the program and have met the School District of Philadelphia’s selection requirements will be placed as principals or assistant principals in Philadelphia comprehensive high schools.

"Social change starts with education"

The remaining protégés will follow in September 2011 when they successfully complete the program and earn Pennsylvania principals’ certification.

“Social change starts with education and begins in our schools. It's the only environment where we have the chance to engage students and create a sense of hope and opportunity at such an early age," says White, who also serves as coordinator for Lehigh’s highly-regarded educational leadership program. “School leaders are in such a unique position to lead that effort and can help transform their schools and, to a greater extent, their communities.”

This educational leadership program was specifically designed for the School District of Philadelphia. The project will recruit exemplary teachers who have demonstrated a commitment to work—and an ability to succeed—in schools, and provide them with collaboratively designed and individually-tailored graduate-level coursework and internship experiences to prepare them for principal or assistant principal positions.



George White, director of Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders, announces the first 14 school leader protégés during a July 15 press conference at Philadelphia's City Hall.

The program has national implications and will be developed as a new cost-effective and sustainable model with the potential to be extended to similar, underperforming school districts across the country. It is believed to be the first such educational collaboration of its kind in Philadelphia, which is the nation’s fourth-largest school district with 62 comprehensive public high schools. In total, the district educates more 163,000 students in grades K-12.

Lehigh tailored the PHSLP’s curriculum and professional development components for the district in close partnership with School District of Philadelphia leadership and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In addition to the educational experience, the protégés will be mentored, receive coaching, and participate in ongoing education programs during their first two years on the job—efforts that will ensure they learn the unique and specific skills of leading a struggling high school to success.

“The notion of partnership, of shared resources and common goals, is central to the core values of Lehigh University,” said Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “There is no better example of partnership in action than the Philadelphia High School Leadership Project. In bringing together city government, the public school system, and a private university, we are witnessing the intrinsic power of collaboration.”

It was a message shared by others in attendance. “The Philadelphia High School Leadership Program was designed to address the pressing need for effective school leaders in low-achieving high schools within one of the largest urban school systems in the country,” School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said.

According to Pitre-Martin, the program is closely aligned to Imagine 2014, the five-year strategic plan announced by the School District of Philadelphia earlier this year. In the plan, first proposed by new superintendent Arlene Ackerman earlier this spring, the district plans to renew its emphasis on its staff by creating leadership institutes with the goal of providing “ongoing professional and talent development” among its school leaders.

The July 15 event also included remarks by Daniel Fitzpatrick, Citizens Bank President and CEO for Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. He also serves as chairman of the Philadelphia-based CEO Ambassadors for 21st Century Skills, an ad-hoc committee of CEO and executive level partners from the Philadelphia region which views investments in education—particularly public education—as investments in the region’s workforce and local economy.

Lori Shorr, chief education officer with the City of Philadelphia, and Maggie Barber, director of research and program development with Lehigh’s Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders, spoke at the event as well.

With this grant, Lehigh’s Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders will continue its long-standing, eight-year relationship with the School District of Philadelphia. Lehigh has partnered with the School District of Philadelphia in the past on such efforts as the Philadelphia Aspiring Principal Academy.

--Tom Yencho

Photos by Dan Z. Johnson

Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2009

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