For Ailing School District, Principals Turn to MSB
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 02:01
A new group of 25 students eagerly awaited their first day of McDonough School of Business classes on Jan. 25. Although their having jobs outside the classroom isn’t particularly unique among MSB graduate students, the nature of their jobs is quite unusual — principals of Washington, D.C. public schools.
The principals are the first to take part in a specially designed year-long Executive Masters in Leadership program in the McDonough School of Business that was established by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, G ’07) in collaboration with the university.
Henderson, who is a graduate of the standard EML program, collaborated with University President John J. DeGioia to develop the concept, which is currently the only one of its kind in the country.
According to the MSB’s Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education Paul Almeida, Henderson’s unique educational background made her the ideal candidate to design such a program.
"The D.C. public school system is a challenging one," Almeida said. "[Henderson] thought her experience made all the difference to her ability to lead this large and complex organization and she wanted to share this experience with her principals so they could move forward in a similar way."
Principals were initially nominated by District administrators and then underwent a series of interviews and applications before being chosen.
The first round of principals comes from a variety of schools and range from those who have only worked for a few years in their posts to seasoned veterans. According to MSB Dean David Thomas, the main criterion for candidates was the ability to effectively manage schools with economically disadvantaged students.
"These are some of the most talented principals and principals who are oriented toward change," Thomas said. "This is really a program to accelerate these leaders’ ability to make … lasting change."
Tuition for EMLs at the MSB typically runs at about $66,000 per student, but this program is funded in part by the university and MSB scholarships, the City Bridge Foundation and a DCPS Teacher Incentive Fund grant. Only a small portion is paid by the participants.
Although administrators incorporated some industry-specific knowledge into the program, the content does not differ extensively from that of standard EMLs. Henderson wanted principals to learn to lead an organization regardless of industry, according to Thomas. Almeida said that while the business world can seem like a far cry from the halls of a public school, the two share many features in common.
"Most urban school systems have organizational, financial and sometimes motivational challenges," Almeida said. "The [EML] is designed to help people move organizations forward in complex environments. It was a natural fit [for] the situation faced by the DCPS principals on a daily basis."
The EML students will meet every other weekend and have three local retreats in locations such as Gettysburg, Penn., where they will use techniques including role-playing to identify and understand each perspective of a situation. They will also take classes at Georgetown and schools across the District.
This past weekend, the principals began their studies in a two-day retreat in Virginia.
"There’s nothing like 48 hours with 25 other people to get you connected," Thomas said.
One of the goals for the small group is to create a close-knit network.
"We hope that two years from now, this first … cohort, they will be a support system for each other," he said.
Administrators are confident that the principals will be satisfied with the time spent attaining their degrees despite the challenges of balancing the program with their day jobs.
"I told them when we launched it last week, two words will describe them at the end of the program: exhausted and exhilarated," Almeida said. "It’s a real Georgetown degree. We don’t change our standards. ... We don’t dumb it down."
"Their first few weeks in the program, probably the majority realize that despite the truth in advertising, it’s even more intense than they expected," Thomas added. "What we find, though, [is that] once the executives are into the experience, they get hooked on the learning."
After the first group of principals graduates in December 2013, the university hopes to continue to further develop and improve the program.
"I think we have the seeds of something extremely wonderful here," Almeida said. "Now we have to nurture that and grow it."