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First Bush Institute effort focuses on principals

DALLAS -- The first major initiative of the new George W. Bush Institute will be to create a training program that will provide more qualified principals to the nation's public schools, officials announced Wednesday.

The institute, which will be based at Southern Methodist University, is launching the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership with a pilot program that includes school districts in Fort Worth, Dallas, Plano, Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

The goal of the program is to train half of the nation's public school principals in the next decade.

Former first lady Laura Bush, who was a teacher and school librarian, announced the alliance Wednesday saying every child deserves a quality education.

"And quality education is possible with great leadership," Bush said.

Institute leaders said they want to transform the way school districts identify, recruit, train and empower principals. The alliance will develop regional consortiums of universities, local school districts and business leaders to develop "game-changing" training models that will include a national performance-based certification program.

Other partners with the alliance include Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, the Rainwater Charitable Foundation and Uplift Education, a charter school operator that has a campus in Arlington.

While there are extraordinary principals working today, there simply aren't enough, said James Guthrie, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the institute. Much of the training available to principals is inadequate and doesn't include enough innovative ideas, he said.

Guthrie, former director of Vanderbilt University's Peabody Center for Education Policy, said research overwhelmingly shows that teachers are the greatest influence on students and in schools. And while various efforts address improving teacher quality, he said a focus on principals is critical to have a more sweeping effect on schools.

"Teachers tell us that the greatest influence on them is the principal," Guthrie said.

The models used in the alliance will vary across the nation but must include certain elements, such as mentoring. Guthrie said school districts will also be encouraged to give more authority to principals so they can truly be leaders. The effectiveness of the programs will be evaluated based on student achievement.

He said the institute aims to have 50,000 principals certified through the alliance by 2020.

Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis are working on training efforts that will be part of the "principal pipeline" officials hope to create.

Fort Worth schools Superintendent Melody Johnson said district officials are still determining how they will work with the alliance, which could include partnering with another district. Fort Worth has an Aspiring Principals Program, through which educators can earn a master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington while serving as an assistant principal.

Johnson said principal training is vital, particularly when school leaders work in urban settings with diverse student populations and elevated needs.

"You can have great teachers doing great things in the classroom, but if you can't have a great school without a great principal at the helm," Johnson said.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes a library, museum and the institute, officially breaks ground at SMU on Nov. 16.

The institute will focus on policy issues in four areas: education reform, expanding human freedom, global health and economic growth.

A $1 million donation from AT&T provided initial funding for the alliance.

For more information about the efforts, go to www.georgewbushcenter.com.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

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