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Principal gains

LAUNCH initiative brings Kellogg management insights to Chicago's aspiring public school principals, shaping education reform through leadership skills

By Romi Herron

During Faye Terrell-Perkins' role as an elementary school principal in Civil Rights Era Chicago, she drove to work past burning flags and deteriorating neighborhoods that were rioting in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

"I grew so angry with what I saw," recalls the senior executive director of Chicago Leadership Academies for Supporting Success (CLASS), a professional development program that enhances the skills of school leaders, ranging from aspiring to veteran principals, with a portfolio of training initiatives. "What schools looked like aesthetically and the overall decline of community pride really strengthened my resolve to make a difference."

Today, Terrell-Perkins is still relentless in advancing public school equity and reform. With a graduate degree from Governors State University among her credentials, she is also the executive director of CLASS' Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago (LAUNCH), founded in 1998 as a collaboration among the Chicago Public School (CPS) system, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and Northwestern University. With support from foundations and grants, LAUNCH provides resources that help identify, train and support aspiring principals.

The Kellogg School of Management is an invaluable knowledge resource for the program, Terrell-Perkins says, as Kellogg faculty are bolstering LAUNCH's clientele with effective management strategies and educational best practices for their schools. To date, 125 LAUNCH fellows have served as CPS principals since completing the program.

  Professor Leigh Thompson
  Professor Leigh Thompson brings her negotiations and leadership insights to the LAUNCH classroom.

Leadership tools for the trade

As part of LAUNCH's Summer Leadership Academy, Kellogg School faculty, including Brenda Ellington-Booth and Leigh Thompson, teach negotiations, conflict resolution and leadership.

Ellington-Booth, director of executive programs and clinical assistant professor of management and organizations, says a central lesson the Kellogg professors present is that "good communication goes a long way."

"Leading change is essential for principals, as the majority of them are in schools that are constantly changing," she says. "[Principals] need to understand how to make strategic changes in their organizations work successfully, since their actions ultimately will impact hundreds of students," she says, adding that her teaching provides fellows with an awareness of how their words and actions shape the organization.

Indeed the role of school principal calls for strong communication and different management styles for different tasks, as principals typically manage several areas of the school's operation simultaneously. Overseeing multiple staff teams, working with outside contractors, monitoring the physical school property and dealing with government officials calls for management muscle.

But traditional curricula for education leaders focus on research and development for effective instruction, not on leadership and management skills vital for principals, according to Joan Dameron-Crisler, LAUNCH's managing director.

"The need for good leadership is universal and crosses all professional boundaries," Dameron-Crisler notes. "It is critical for principals to be able to identify talent and potential on their staffs and build successful teams to support them in their work, because it is virtually impossible for any principal to succeed without a commitment to shared leadership and decision making."

Kellogg management strategies, she says, are tools that enable principals to delegate and invite others — parents, teachers or other staff — to assume leadership roles and provide substantive support in achieving the school's goals. For example, principals benefit by delegating certain management tasks and sharing responsibility for planning, logistics, scheduling, facilitation and monitoring of specialty programs, such as advanced math or reading initiatives for gifted students, with highly qualified content area specialists, instead of taking on the entire task themselves.

In addition to team building, the pitfalls of group-think are taught by Thompson, the J. Jay Gerber Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations. Ellington-Booth's teachings focus on communication and leading change. The latter is a particularly daunting task for principals who often meet resistance, she says.

Because change occurs frequently in schools, many teachers have become skeptical about such efforts and believe that most change is "the flavor of the month," says Ellington-Booth. "When a new principal comes on board, he or she needs strategies to get past this skepticism and create excitement, momentum or hope in initiatives."

To that end, Ellington-Booth provides fellows with proven strategies to help them understand why people are resistant to change and how leaders can overcome this hurdle. She also presents methods for new leaders to establish credibility.

With input from Penelope Peterson, dean of Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy, the LAUNCH curriculum addresses recurring situations that principals face. Also a part of the Summer Leadership Academy, fellows work alongside current mentor principals. It's a rigorous development period, and the Kellogg component is highly regarded by the participants, says LAUNCH co-founder, Martin J. Koldyke, who is retired chairman of Frontenac Company, a Chicago venture capital firm he created in 1971.   

"Year after year the principal trainees all say that the most compelling parts of the program are the exposure to Kellogg faculty," says Koldyke. "In my view, the faculty is key to the success of the LAUNCH program."

Change embraced

Thompson agrees that the enthusiasm of LAUNCH fellows is evident — a factor that makes teaching them a joy, she says.

"Participants are engaged, passionate and supportive of one another, and are very effective in making the management-to-school connections," Thompson says. "They are actively mastering their own development as the leaders of public schools."

Terrell-Perkins provides an example of a peer coaching and mentoring method: "Teachers observe their colleagues and give feedback. The principal in the peer coaching/modeling process has to remain separate, so the teachers know it is not administrator-influenced." This strategy has resulted in beneficial instruction changes and heightened trust among colleagues, she says.

To foster the fellows' personal connections with management strategies, Kellogg faculty maintains a reflective learning environment.

"LAUNCH fellows write in journals every day for about 45 minutes, reflecting on the sessions we teach," Thompson says. "It is amazing the way they drink in the knowledge."

Tresa Dunbar, a former LAUNCH fellow, now principal at Chicago's Nash Elementary School, testifies to the program's benefits.  "At Kellogg I learned how to practice shared leadership," she says. "Now I'm building teams effectively, through collaboration around issues. I perform needs analyses and place individuals in groups based on their interests."

With that level of willingness, and the knowledge gained through their studies with Kellogg faculty, LAUNCH fellows are better prepared to motivate parents, staff and community members to participate in their children's academic experience, says Terrell-Perkins, who believes that parental involvement is a result of a school leader who inspires it.

In addition, effective leadership combined with passion, says Thompson, can benefit not only principals but also leaders in other industries.

"They bring all their heart and soul to the learning, and that love for their colleagues creates a powerful environment that I wish many other companies and organizations could experience," says the Kellogg professor.

Further, LAUNCH continues to effect institutional change for reform that proves vital not only for today's young learners and their families, but for the communities where those children will someday emerge as productive adults.

"Building and creating schools that are places of excellence for all children will impact not only those children," Terrell-Perkins says. "It will impact your community and city with, far-reaching results."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University