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Virginia State University Selected to Participate in $47-Million Initiative

Published date: November 2, 2016

VSU President, Provost, FacultyThe Wallace Foundation has selected Virginia State University (VSU) to participate in a national $47-million initiative to develop models over the next four years for improving university principal preparation programs and to examine state policy to see if it could be strengthened to encourage higher-quality training statewide. An independent study will capture lessons from the participating universities and their partners to be shared with policymakers and practitioners across the country.

Virginia State University, along with district partners and the Virginia Department of Education, will receive in the first year $2.41 million to take on this work.

“I would like to thank the Wallace Foundation for selecting Virginia State University as a partner to assist in increasing the number of principals who are well prepared to guide and lead schools in not only the Commonwealth of Virginia but also the nation,” President of Virginia State University Makola M. Abdullah, Ph.D. said.  “I also would like to especially thank our Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Dr. Robert N. Corley III and his team of faculty members who will lead our efforts in improving university principal preparation programs.”

Virginia State University, one of seven universities selected by the foundation, will receive guidance on redesigning its programming from Gwinnett County Public Schools (GA) Quality-Plus Leader Academy known for high-quality training. In addition, Virginia State University will form a partnership with Henrico County Public Schools, Hopewell City Public Schools, and Sussex County Public Schools, which hire the program’s graduates. The idea is both to ensure that the training is revamped with local school needs in mind and to develop research-based training elements, such as providing candidates with rigorous internships in schools that require close cooperation with school districts.         

“Effective and well-prepared principals are critical to improving outcomes for students, especially in schools serving children in poverty,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “My colleagues at the department and I look forward to supporting VSU and the participating school divisions in this opportunity to align preparation and practice with the needs of today’s students and schools.” 

Virginia State University’s Department of Educational Leadership offers two programs of study in education administration and supervision at the master and doctoral levels.  A large population of the administrators in Central Virginia are graduates of VSU’s principal preparation program.

“We are truly excited to partner with the Wallace Foundation to use authentic engagement and best practices from the field to build upon our legacy of producing transformative educational leaders,” said Project Director Dr. Robert N. Corley III, Interim Dean of the College of Education and Associate Vice-Provost for Graduate Programs. “With guidance from the Wallace Foundation, our ultimate goal is to work with our division, state and exemplary partners to create a model of excellence in principal preparation for Virginia and the nation ensuring that “no child is left behind” and that “every child shall succeed”.  A special word of congratulations is expressed to Drs. Linda Noel-Batiste (Project Manager), Tracy Walker, Michelle Belle, Ayana Conway and the entire Virginia State University Community.

“We know from research that school principals require excellent training with high-quality, practical  experiences to become effective leaders—but most are simply not getting this,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “Because many school districts don’t have the capacity to train as many principals as they need or to train future principals at all, the best way to reach more aspiring school leaders is through the university programs that typically provide needed certification. We are confident that the selected universities want to raise the bar for their programs, work in partnership with their local school districts and serve as models for other universities.”                        

The Wallace Foundation was interested in finding university programs that serve districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students, whose schools could particularly benefit from effective school leadership. After a selection process that included site visits and assistance from experts in state policy and education, the foundation selected these six other universities: Albany State University (Georgia), Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University (California), the University of Connecticut and Western Kentucky University.

The seven states in which the universities are located will receive funding to review their policies pertaining to university-based principal training and determine if changes—such as program accreditation and principal licensure or certification requirements—would encourage the development of more effective preparation programs statewide.

The University Principal Preparation Initiative builds on 15 years of Wallace-supported research and experience about what makes for effective principals and their “pre-service” training at universities. The initiative seeks to explore how university programs can improve their training so it reflects the evidence on how best to prepare effective principals, and then to share these insights to benefit the broader field. 

The foundation hopes the initiative can contribute over the long term to the development of a new national approach to preparing effective principals, one focusing on evidence-based policies and practices in three areas:

  • Developing and implementing high-quality courses of study with practical, on-the-job experiences.
  • Putting in place strong university-district partnerships.
  • Developing state policies about program accreditation, principal licensure or certification, and other matters (funded internships, for example) to promote more effective training statewide.

The initiative aims to address a longstanding concern that many university programs haven’t kept pace with the growing demands of the principalship, especially as the job moves increasingly from a focus on building management to a focus on improving instruction. According to a recent Wallace-commissioned study, Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, 80 percent of district superintendents are dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs, and many universities also believe their programs have room for improvement.

“The more we talk with education leaders no matter at what level of the education system, from state to university to district, the more we hear it is the right time to conduct a university-focused initiative like this,” said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace. “We are seeking to learn how these seven universities accomplish their program redesign as an important first step in improving how principals are prepared for the demanding job of leading school improvement across the country.”

RAND Corporation will conduct an independent evaluation of the initiative over four years, with a final report in year five. The study will assess how the participating universities go about trying to implement high-quality courses of study and to form strong partnerships with local, high-needs school districts. A series of public reports will share lessons and insights and describe whatever credible models emerge so that other universities, districts and states can adopt or adapt the initiative work. 


About Virginia State University
Known as “Virginia’s Opportunity University,” Virginia State University is a historically black land-grant public university located south of Richmond that has prepared transformative educational leaders since 1882. The University is committed to the preparation of a diverse population of men and women through the advancement of academic programs and services that integrate instruction, research, extension and outreach.
With an enrollment of nearly 5,000 students, the University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

About The Wallace Foundation
The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Summer and expanded learning: Better understanding the impact of high-quality summer learning programs on disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day in ways that benefit students.

Find out more at www.wallacefoundation.org.

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