WMU researchers get $12.5 million grant for school leadership renewal

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of Dr. Patricia Reeves.


Photo of Jianping Shen


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Two longtime school leadership researchers at Western Michigan University will use one of the largest single grants ever awarded to the University for a three-year effort aimed at intense school leadership development in high-poverty schools across West Michigan.

A $12.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Education will fund the High-Impact Leadership for School Renewal Project, led by Dr. Patricia Reeves, associate professor, and Dr. Jianping Shen, the John E. Sandberg Professor of Education and the Gwen Frostic Endowed Chair, in WMU's Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology. The project focuses on two major outcomes—developing a strong pool of practicing school leaders and improving student achievement.

Working with a pool of elementary schools in 20 West Michigan counties, the project will support teams of school principals and teacher leaders by:

  • Providing intense professional development and support, and money for renewal projects for teams of leaders in 75 schools that are implementing a set of new literacy essentials.
  • Placing a trained team of school renewal coaches in each project school.
  • Providing a lower level of professional development support and funding for leaders in an additional 75 schools.
  • Applying a set of proven school leadership practices for school renewal and sustainable implementation.

The project is a collaborative effort involving WMU and two statewide initiatives called the Reading Now Network and the General Education Leadership Network. Patricia Reeves, the project director, says the initiative began among a group of West Michigan school superintendents determined to improve student reading levels by working together to build a school leadership model around the practices they saw in use at high-performing schools.

"Initiatives that build from the ground up, like this one, are so precious," says Reeves. "They can ultimately lead to real change, and our job is to provide the support necessary to make this enormously ambitious project work and keep a complex range of moving parts in sync."

The schools selected to take part in the effort will be from a 190-school pool in Regions 3 and 7 of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. Region 3 includes Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa counties. MASA's Region 7 includes Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St Joseph and Van Buren counties.

Reeves says the initiative grew out of work that began among school superintendents in Region 3 who formed the Reading Now Network to achieve equity of opportunity for all students regardless of school, family or community circumstances. The superintendents identified five schools that were outperforming expectations based on their demographics and deployed a team to conduct case studies on the leadership practices found at those schools. To complement and extend their findings, the Reading Now Network leadership endorsed the General Education Leadership Network Literacy Essentials developed by a group of literacy specialists. As a result of the Reading Now Network's efforts, more than 95 percent of the school districts in Regions 3 and 7 have made a commitment to the Reading Now Network findings and the GELN Literacy Essentials.

"With this grant, we will focus on turning that commitment into deep implementation and results," says Reeves.

Each of the 75 high-need schools selected will receive professional development for the principal and a team of three teachers who may be future principals. The school team will be assigned a team of coaches who will work with them over a 30-month period. Each of the schools selected also will receive $20,000 over the 30-month period for school renewal efforts.

WMU will provide project management and coordinate all the training, development and support work by coaches and conduct data collection and analysis. University researchers will be tracking the schools for progress in seven areas of school leadership considered critical for school renewal. They include such qualities as commitment to school renewal and data-informed decision-making.

"Building on the work previously funded by three school leadership grants and two Wallace Foundation grants," says project co-director Shen, "this project will continue to develop and validate the renewal model, as opposed to the reform model, for school improvement."

In addition to the 75 schools selected for the initial three years of the funded period, a control group of another 75 schools will receive a less-intense level of leadership development support and $4,000 each during the last six months of the grant for school renewal work. Reeves says if the project is funded for a fourth and fifth year, those 75 control-group schools also will receive the same full leadership development treatment as the initial group.

"We're hoping to see impressive enough results in student achievement in the initial three years that we will be funded for two additional years," she notes.

The project will be led by Reeves and her WMU colleague Jianping Shen as well as two educators from Ottawa County—Dr. Kyle Mayer, assistant superintendent for instructional services with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, and Douglas Greer, director of school improvement with the OAISD.


Reeves specializes in educational leadership and evaluation, measurement and research. She is co-author of School ADvance, one of two research-based performance evaluation systems for school leaders validated by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness and adopted by more than 80 percent of Michigan school districts. Her research interests include school district and superintendent leadership, the development and credentialing of school leaders, educator performance assessment and evaluation, and education policy. Before joining the WMU faculty, Reeves held several positions, from teacher to superintendent, in the Vicksburg Community Schools.


Shen, a 2017 WMU Distinguished Grant Awardee and co-director of the project, has led numerous large research projects focused on such topics as principal leadership, school renewal, data-informed decision-making, teacher retention and attrition, alternative certification, and systemic change.

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