The Delaware Leadership Project: Finding principals to lead high-need urban and rural schools

El Tiempo Hispano

The Delaware Leadership Project (DLP) is a new, state-approved alternate route to principal certification program for those interested in leading our state’s highest-need urban and rural schools.

DELAWARE — The 14 months of preparation that aspiring principals receive is specifically tailored to the complex challenge of leading schools that serve low-income communities, a critical component of the Delaware Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative.

The Delaware Leadership Project (DLP) has accepted and placed six outstanding educators for its second cohort. These aspiring principals will be rigorously trained for the challenges of heading a high-need school in Delaware. Each has made a personal commitment to Delaware’s traditionally underserved students and is eager to continue the training that will prepare him or her for this work.

Recently the state Professional Standards Board and State Board of Education approved DLP’s extension to allow for the preparation of a third cohort of aspiring leaders.

DLP is an intensive, full-time, 14-month training program for aspiring school leaders, and is a key part of Delaware’s Race to the Top plan. The six graduates of the first cohort have obtained positions in Delaware since completing their program in June. All six will continue to receive coaching and support for the next two years as part of the project.

Like the first DLP class, the second cohort was selected through a competitive application process. This second cohort of DLP aspiring principals represents the top 5 percent of applicants — more than 100 applications were received for the second cohort.

They were chosen using a multi-stage process that involved a written application, group interview and individual interview, with a rigorous scoring and selection process at each stage.

Of these six exemplary educators, El Tiempo Hispano chatted with Jesús Urdiales to learn more about this leadership in education project of Delaware.

Urdiales is a native of Monterrey, Mexico and earned a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision at the University of Houston, after serving for 12 years as a bilingual teacher in Houston, Texas. He recently turned 37 and believes that the role of a school principal is to help educators have the tools and proper training to open doors to new generations.

“I learned on the internet that Delaware was implementing a leadership plan that has been successful in New York and de- cided that I wanted to be part of an innovative project. I was not happy with what I have learned while studying my masters and I was lacking experience, so I did some research on how to improve and I found, by chance, this project in Delaware that fits my personal project.

“Although the program is a way to get certified as a principal or assistant principal in the state of Delaware, Urdiales sees it more as a program that, focuses less on theory based on questioning but, “is seeking that everybody finds a way to be a leading innovator in the education system.”

In fact the program’s philosophy says, “As school leaders, principals are the key to a school’s overall performance and must serve as the catalyst for achieving the kind of fundamental change many schools require.”

Urdiales feels very happy to have been placed in Eisenberg Elementary School in the Colonial School District and being able to share with an excellent principal as is Kalya Reynolds, “the fact that theory and practice go together in this intensive training, helps me learn to be a leader. Having the youth have the tools they need to succeed in life in all possible fields, so that everyone can take their lives into their own hands, that’s what counts.”

And how do you think innovation and creative proposals can be balanced in a control system applied in the state’s education to measure goals and results?

“While there must be a system of evaluation of what happens in the classroom, the most important thing is to figure out how we can help teachers implement a creative system of imparting education.

“We cannot see the evaluation system with a negative connotation, we must use it for what it was created, which is to improve the overall performance in school and work as a team,” said Urdiales. “The real question, he says, is how I can help for you to succeed in your endeavor.”

I feel I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to learn every day, especially visiting schools that have surprised me as I see the children’s progress in technology, communication skills and social behavior, that’s my dream, to achieve innovative education, I am certain we will accomplish amazing things.”

The program is run by Wilmington-based Innovative Schools, a non-profit public school resource center, under the oversight of the Delaware Department of Education. Innovative Schools has modeled the Delaware Leadership Project after the NYC Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principal Program.

According to an independent study conducted by the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University, that program has demonstrated the capacity to reverse the decline of low-performing schools and narrow the gaps with higher-performing peer schools in elementary and middle-school English language arts and math.

To learn more or to apply for the program, visit: http://www.innovativeschools.org/dlp

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