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“At the end of the day, schools are ecosystems, and the leader — the principal — is the core of that ecosystem,” says Patrick G. Ryan ’97. “The leader is either the catalyst or the limiting factor in how successful a school can be.”

“At the end of the day, schools are ecosystems, and the leader — the principal — is the core of that ecosystem,” says Patrick G. Ryan ’97. “The leader is either the catalyst or the limiting factor in how successful a school can be.”

Developing the charter-school leaders of tomorrow

Patrick G. Ryan Jr. ’97 spearheads the Accelerate Institute, a joint venture between the Alain Locke Initiative and Kellogg’s Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice

By Sara Langen

8/2/2011 - When business and civic entrepreneur Patrick G. Ryan Jr. ’97 founded Chicago’s Alain Locke Charter School in 1998, everything from pencils to computers seemed to be in place.

But it soon became apparent that the new educational venture was missing the most crucial element to ensure its success: leadership.

“We spent a total of five years looking for a leader for the school and we discovered there was a dearth of real leaders out there,” explains, a graduate of Kellogg’s JD-MBA program. “At the end of the day, schools are ecosystems, and the leader — the principal — is the core of that ecosystem. The leader is either the catalyst or the limiting factor in how successful a school can be.”

Seeing many charter schools struggling under a lack of leadership, Ryan decided to launch a new venture through the Alain Locke Initiative. The goal: to train talented educators to become administrators. That venture, now called the Ryan Fellowships, kicked off the first stage of a three-part program July 11 with the Accelerate Institute, a four-week intensive training program at Kellogg. The program is operating in partnership with Kellogg’s Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice.

The Ryan Fellowships is the final incarnation of a pilot program that provides charter-school leadership training, mentoring and placement for high-performing educators from around the country. This year, eight educators are taking part in the program, which hopes to expand to a maximum of 30 participants in the coming years. For four weeks, they have the opportunity to learn leadership and management strategy from a Kellogg perspective.

“We can give them the tools, the framework and the concepts to make sense of what they’ve learned here so they can take it and hit the ground running,” says Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations Brenda Ellington-Booth. “These are incredibly dedicated, passionate people who want to make a difference.”

After they complete the Accelerate Institute training at Kellogg, each participant will have a six-month residency at a high-achieving charter school, where he or she will serve under a mentor’s supervision. They then will be placed as principals at urban charter schools, where they will continue to have a mentor relationship and the support they need to succeed in accelerating student achievement.

Ryan’s personal experience as a narcotics investigator and educator in Chicago’s inner city inspired his desire to improve the situation of the people he knew. He sees the Ryan Fellowships as a culmination of that vision, a program he describes as the “Rhodes scholarships” for charter-school principals.

Larry Levy, founder and chairman of Levy Restaurants and chairman and CEO of The Levy Organization, says the Levy Institute is proud to play a role in creating new school leaders.

He adds that the Accelerate Institute has demonstrated to him how much teachers and business professionals have in common.

“I was fascinated by the similarities between business entrepreneurs and educational entrepreneurs,” Levy says. “I saw it in the questions they asked and the experiences they shared. I compared these educators to some of the big-time coaches I know. These people can have the same impact on the success of a school.”