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WMU wins $3.5 million grant to work with principals

Nov. 19, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University researchers have been awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to collaborate with 12 high-need school districts in Michigan, working with principals and aspiring principals to improve education.

Photo of Dr. Van Cooley and Dr. Jianping Shen, WMU.With the help of the grant, Drs. Van Cooley and Jianping Shen, the chair and John E. Sandberg Professor, respectively, in WMU's Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology, will conduct the Learning-Centered Leadership Development Program with 50 practicing and 50 aspiring principals. Each pair of practicing and aspiring principals will be recruited from the same school to facilitate project activities.

Assessment of the districts and schools involved in the project, they say, shows an urgent need to improve the leadership of both practicing and aspiring principals. Improving leadership will, ultimately, raise student achievement, they predict.

Student achievement has been a major focus of educational policy and practice for the past decade, especially for high-need schools and districts, Shen says. The new project builds on prior work by the researchers, which was funded by a School Leadership Program grant from the Department of Education and two subsequent projects funded by the Wallace Foundation.

Their goal is to develop a learning-focused leadership development program demonstrating strong results that paves the way for additional projects.

"In a school, leadership is second only to classroom practice in terms of impacting student achievement," Shen says. "We are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with our partner school districts with an ultimate goal to improve student achievement."

The project will run through September 2015 and is based on empirical research on the relationship between principal leadership and student achievement. It focuses on seven dimensions of principals' work identified in studies as being associated with higher student achievement. Those include everything from inspiring school renewal and operating an orderly school to high, culturally relevant expectations for students, coherent programs and empowering school personnel.

In addition to putting principals through rigorous training, the project will evaluate progress against a control group and analyze data using four well-established instruments as well as student achievement data. It will not only validate a curriculum for improved principal leadership in participating districts, but also provide the curriculum to the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals and Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association for statewide training.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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