Principled Principal Development: The Greater Boston Principal Residency Network

Educators in Massachusetts are faced with this question: what measures are necessary to stop a policy that is clearly discriminatory against low-income school districts whose students, as a rule, are racial and cultural minorities? And what stands and measures must educators take in order to identify racist and misguided policies to the policy-makers and offer proposals to reverse these policies?

Last night, as I stood with my family in the street outside of the (Boston) school committee building in the freezing cold, I looked around – and I felt alone. My aloneness came from being one of two principals in the crowd, and I wondered why this was the case since in closed meetings, my fellow principals have been almost militant in voicing their opposition to the MCAS, Then, after the rally was over, the demonstrators were asked to come inside the school committee chambers. At that point, I was the only principal left. I was standing at the crossroads of moral courage. Which road to take was not a difficult decision to make. I went into the chambers . . .

This December 2000 reflection from Beatriz Zapater, assistant head of school for the day program at Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), comes from the portfolio she constructed during her 15-month residency with the Greater Boston Principal Residency Network (PRN), an apprenticeship-based principal preparation and certification program for small school leaders.

The PRN leverages systemic school change by producing educational leaders prepared to lead small, innovative, personalized public schools. The organization trains principals not just to be accountable, but to model leadership by embodying the “Distinguished Principal Qualities” (DPQs) crucial to integrated and holistic school reform. These DPQs are the guideposts by which an aspiring principal measures his or her understanding of the breadth and depth of responsibility of the principalship.

According to the four Aspiring Principals (APs) who have worked at BDEA, PRN helped them each to develop their own intrinsic understanding of the characteristics of a school leader. The desire to be a good leader is a good start, but desire itself is not enough.

According to BDEA head of school Meg Maccini, PRN teaches far more than the mechanics of being a principal. She has mentored four PRN APs over the past seven years and explains why working as a PRN mentor has helped her to continue to develop her own leadership skills. Maccini observes:

I decided to continue to mentor aspiring principals in the PRN because as a progressive educator and leader, I have a responsibility to help authentically prepare other practitioners for a role in leadership, especially in a Coalition school. The PRN training and preparation puts the CES principles front and center. The curriculum and experiences are formed around dilemmas and training in good leadership and habits of mind, such as the importance of evidence and perspective.

One of the aspects of the PRN that has contributed to making me a stronger leader is reflecting and debriefing with the AP. During the course of an average day, there generally isn’t time to slow down and think about how and why certain decisions are made, or the ramifications and outcomes of decisions. Both of my recent APs have wanted to debrief decisions, and I often asked them, “If you were me, what would you have done?” This question often forces me to be vulnerable, as there are times where I make mistakes and choose to open myself up to the critique of my AP. My AP learns to have honest conversations with me, and I get to hear a different perspective regarding how I addressed a problem or issue.

There is something sacred in the relationship between the AP and MP. When the team hits its stride, the AP and MP are in a reciprocal relationship. The AP develops his/her leadership persona in a supportive environment that provides significant learning opportunities and the MP continues to grow as a result of the professional interaction with a like-minded colleague pursuing the same standard of excellence.

Alison Hramiec, a science teacher at BDEA for four years, is working on several projects for the school at the same time she is preparing for her PRN expositions. Three times during the residency year, the AP presents his or her work to an assembly of other APs as well as leaders in the Pilot network for feedback which is used to measure individual progress against the DPQs. Hramiec says:

Probably the most significant part of the PRN experience is the opportunity to work with the leadership team at BDEA. Unlike other Principal certification/credential programs, in the PRN, APs learn by doing. I spend the first three hours of my day in the classroom teaching and the remainder of the day working on projects, meeting with school leadership to discuss the work of the school, or helping to facilitate meetings with staff or students. Perhaps it is due to the willingness of our leadership to share in decision-making, but I feel like I am deep in the trenches of administration.

In addition to the monthly sessions and readings assigned through the network, an essential component of the PRN program is reflection. As an AP, I get to try on different leadership hats, yet the bulk of the learning happens through reflection. APs are encouraged to keep a journal, but we are also required to write reflection papers throughout the 12-month program. This practice has turned into a habit and I find myself reflecting as I travel to and from school, processing the events of the day and evaluating the way staff or students received my actions and decisions. I have learned many lessons, yet my constant challenge is how to remember and implement all of the lessons learned! Reflection has helped me to deepen my philosophy about education and leadership, which in turn grounds my leadership decisions.

The DPQs are human qualities that, when embodied, result in what some describe as the human side of reform. Leading a school is not analogous to running a business. Principals must facilitate a dynamic group of educators and staff to support the best interests of students in a challenging educational environment. The PRN program both reflects and promotes this understanding. It is the basis of the reform that is happening in many of the Boston Public schools. The charge to APs by the PRN is both simple and profound: “Bring about change, one school at a time.”

Jessie Yurwitz, an AP at BDEA in 2006-2007, is now a consultant for the school in the area of student support. She describes some of her experience addressing the DPQs:

PRN is different from traditional teaching and administrative programs, because APs take only one class at a time. APs live the CES principle “Less is more,” and our assignments and conversations reflect this. Rather than taking five courses simultaneously on topics such as “School Budget” or “Educational Law,” PRN requires APs to take a single, self-designed course on leadership. For the entire year, we are able to explore the kind of leaders we will be and accumulate the skills and knowledge required to be thoughtful and effective principals working for school reform. All PRN projects and conversations are directly linked to this question. APs practice reflection, collaboration, risk taking and problem solving with the encouragement and support of the entire network.

A key to PRN’s success. is the formation of many different kinds of relationships. PRN is structured to help APs practice creating and using critical friendships with colleagues they can go to for help and advice during the residency year, but who will also be a resource once the AP becomes a principal. As an aspiring principal, I formed strong, long lasting relationships with my mentor principal, other mentoring principals, my fellow aspiring principals and especially with Meg Anderson and Larry Myatt, my PRN professors. PRN encourages these relationships, but also gives APs a structure for the difficult and deep conversations we need to be able to have with our colleagues. The exhibition process by which all APs are evaluated is modeled on these conversations that encourage the use of protocols and the formation of “critical friendships.” These exhibitions force APs to make their dilemmas public and then ask colleagues for constructive help. Through this process, I learned that my success as a leader would not be based solely upon my capacity to make good decisions and enact effective changes, but more importantly, by how I am able to engage others in this process, seek out multiple perspectives on a problem, and accept the assistance of others.

When school administrators and especially principals are immersed in the fast paced, hectic environment of schools, the inclination is often to make decisions and solve problems as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next potential crisis. PRN taught me to slow down, to take a broader view, and to see change as a long-term commitment rather than a series of short term fixes. Perhaps most important, PRN taught me to seek out the perspective of others. Through our class discussions and writing assignments, we practiced being reflective, and took the time to unravel complex issues slowly and meaningfully with help from our colleagues.

Finally, APs are encouraged to take risks, to make bold decisions, and to stand bravely—even if alone—for a principle. Meg Anderson and Larry Myatt would look over our projects and ask, “Does this make you nauseous?” If the answer was “No,” they would encourage us to take on another project. It is critical to the success of the PRN experience that chosen projects are outside the AP’s comfort zone. Our professors required that we all go out on a limb and hang there as they shouted encouraging words from below.

PRN aims to prepare leaders for small schools in the 21st century while simultaneously pushing for significant school redesign. Yet so much of PRN is good common sense, culled and developed from good practice, great leadership, and dedication to affecting responsible and far-reaching change in a crucial system currently in disarray. The PRN network succeeds with the success of each of its graduates. The more consistently the message of PRN is brought to the daily work of educating our youth, the more clearly the message of responsible reform is made known and the more valuable a PRN residency becomes.

The Greater Boston Principal Residency Network
Offered in conjunction with Northeastern University the Greater Boston Principal Residency Network (PRN) is an apprenticeship-based principal preparation and licensure program for aspiring leaders of small schools. PRN seeks to spur systemic school change by producing a new cadre of educational leaders prepared to take the helm of small, innovative, personalized public schools. The program centers on a rigorous field experience, guided by exceptional practitioners, within the context of schools that have demonstrated significant commitment to small size and school redesign. Candidates for this program must be housed in a school with 350 students or less, or one that is breaking down into small learning communities of that size. The school should be guided by a coherent set of principles, be engaged in deep reform work, and have a visionary leader at the helm. The PRN is a collaborative partnership of the Center for Collaborative Education, and Northeastern University.

Contact information for The Greater Boston Principal Residency Network: Meg Anderson,

Boston Day and Evening Academy
The Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) is an innovative, year-round public high school with a unique mission: serving 350 students who are over-age for grade level and at high risk for dropping out. Working with experienced faculty in an environment that blends strong academics and wrap-around supports, students are given the tools to earn a Boston Public School diploma and reach their fullest potential through a competency-based curriculum that inspires critical and creative thinking, independent learning, and active citizenship. BDEA is the only 12-hour school in Boston, with three programs designed to address the significant hurdles faced by academically unprepared and over-aged students and give them a second chance at graduating with a diploma. The Day Program accepts eighth graders who are not at grade level; the Evening Program addresses the issues faced by older students who have been unsuccessful at traditional schools or who have already dropped out and want to “drop back in”; and the Distance Learning Program serves highly motivated students who cannot attend school on a regular basis due to illness or full-time employment.

Principal Residency Network’s Distinguished Principal Qualities
Human Relations: pays attention to the personal in all aspects of the work; able to support, educate, and when necessary, outplace; thoughtful, understanding, good listener, just; places equity at the center of the work.

Moral Courage: able to stand alone; does what is best for kids, not just what is dictated, fashionable, traditional or convenient; willing and able to challenge traditions and assumptions; keeper of the dream in the face of all obstacles.

Vision: has a clear vision and keeps people moving toward that vision; all work is transparent and consistent with the vision; able to identify those aspects of the school not in keeping with the vision; knows where the school is headed and what the outcomes should be.

Public Support and Engagement: effective in engaging the public; recognizes the need for and engages in political work of school reform; uses data astutely; able to articulate school results and the rationale for change initiatives; effective fund‑raiser and developer.

Communications and Information: asks the right questions; collects and disseminates the right information; aware of what is happening in all facets of the school.

Flexibility and Efficiency: adept at multi‑tasking and thrives in the doing; patient but action‑oriented; follows through.

Love of Learning and Leading: uses humor and affection to create joy and pride in the work and in daily interactions; thrives in the environment; willing to lead in learning and growing with others.

Inquiry and Reflection: has a clear vision for decision-making based on a cycle of inquiry and reflection, using a variety of data collected systematically at the school level; works to make a wide variety of data accessible to teachers and supports teachers in using data based inquiry at the classroom level.

Authentic Relationships and Facilitation: shows respect for staff, students, parents and collaborators; promotes democratic collaborations and consensus building; fosters collective ownership of problems and issues; knows how and when to trust and rely on others; open to and recognizes strength in diverse perspectives; knows how to give feedback, delegate, and let go.

Model Teacher/Learner: able to get the best from staff; sets standards that staff can understand and buy into; intuitive and insightful; understands young people and relates well to them; careful with language and tone; able to confront and defuse conflicts; doesn’t take him/herself too seriously; recognizes burdens and paradoxes of leadership.

Principal Residency Network History
by Meg Anderson, Director, Greater Boston Principals Residency Network, Center for Collaborative Education

The Greater Boston Principals Residency Network (PRN) began recruitment for its ninth cohort of Aspiring Principals in January 2008. While keeping close to its roots and the passion and purpose of the first cohort, PRN has matured and evolved with each year. The original conception of PRN was national in scope, developing in conjunction with the small schools movement and responding to the crucial need for small school leaders; not just principals, but teacher leaders as well. (While between 60 to 65 percent of the Greater Boston PRN graduates go on to administrative positions, about 35 percent remain in their schools as teacher-leaders. Larry Myatt, Dennis Littky, Elliot Washor, Deborah Meier, and others collaborated on the original mission statement and design principles. At PRN’s core is a belief in the apprenticeship model and its ability to give leadership training the relevance, intensity, and depth of understanding of school practices that are so important to leaders who need to inspire and guide faculties in reforming their schools. Aspiring Principals and their Mentor Principals develope individualized learning plans. Theory and practice are merged in the residency, and learning is extended and supported through the network of PRN schools and the cohort. To this day, these core beliefs provide PRN the flexibility to respond as the demands on the principalship change. In addition to the Greater Boston PRN, Providence, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire also have PRN cohorts.

Meg Maccini joined Boston Day and Evening Academy in 1996 and was appointed Head of School in 2002. She has been an active participant in the Coalition of Essential Schools network and in the Annenberg Institute of School Reform.

Beatriz Zapater is the Assistant Head of School for the Day Program at Boston Day and Evening Academy. She has spent the past year as a Pilot Schools Program Developer and Coach for the Center for Collaborative Education, creating guides to the Boston Pilot Schools.

Alison Hramiec is in the Principal Residency Network program serving as an Aspiring Principal at Boston Day and Evening Academy. After finishing her PRN residency, Alison will continue at BDEA in a leadership role.

Jessie Yurwitz is a consultant at Boston Day and Evening Academy and was an Aspiring Principal there during the 2007 academic year. Jessie has worked in CES schools for the past fifteen years as a teacher, a coach, and a program developer.

Andrea Kunst joined Boston Day and Evening Academy in September 2007 as the Director of Institutional Advancement.