Education Administration

What Is the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship?

What Is the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship?
Multiple studies demonstrate that Black and Latinx students achieve higher test scores and more often receive gifted services when their principal shares their racial background. Image from Pexels
Courtney Eiland profile
Courtney Eiland June 16, 2022

The National Aspiring Principals Fellowship provides a gateway to educators looking to enter administration, with a primary focus on advancing minority education leaders.

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nonwhites constituted 54 percent of all public school students in 2020. That number is projected to increase to 57 percent by 2030.

Even so, nearly 80 percent of public school principals are white. New Leaders, an organization committed to educational equity, terms this disparity a “representation gap in school leadership” that denies students the opportunity “to see themselves reflected in the educators and leaders that surround them at school—and then imagine bigger and bolder dreams for themselves.”

Representation matters in the television programs we watch, the executive leadership teams we see within corporate America, and yes, educational leadership. Research conducted by The Wallace Foundation finds that effective principals positively influence students regarding student achievement and attendance. Even more tellingly, the same report cites multiple studies demonstrating that Black and Latinx students achieve higher test scores and more often receive gifted services when their principal shares their racial background. Minority principals matter when it comes to student performance.

So, what steps can schools take to help close this gap between student and school administrator demographics?

Some districts have attempted to redress this situation. The Jefferson County Public Schools of Louisville, Kentucky and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools of North Carolina have implemented a racial equity plan and received grants from The Wallace Foundation, for example.

These district-level strides show promise, but there is also a need to expand these offerings by casting a broader net. New Leaders aims to do that by joining forces with two prominent historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University—to develop the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. This first-of-its-kind program represents a vital step in bringing awareness to the representation gap nationwide in a solution-oriented way.

This article discusses the goals of the fellowship program, how the program works, its partners, and how to apply.

National Aspiring Principals Fellowship: goals

The National Aspiring Principals Fellowship aims to train the next wave of equity-focused educational leaders who better reflect the students and communities they serve. For over 20 years, New Leaders has been a pipeline for aspiring principals serving K-12 schools with large minority student populations. To build on their years of equitable work, the organization has expanded this program by partnering with two HBCUs to add an online curriculum component. The two tracks available include a one-year principal certification and a 16-month master’s degree + principal certification program.

In addition to increase minority representation among school leadership, the Fellowship program also aims to:

  • Increase principal retention, resulting in lower turnover rates and reduced costs required to train new staff
  • Increase teacher retention and champion career development to develop future school or district leaders
  • Promote equity in schools by addressing the need for more leaders of color
  • Improve learning for all students to ensure every child has a pathway to success

The Fellowship curriculum is taught by principals for principals. Instructors also include practitioners with experience in helping other leaders transform their schools toward more equitable education, with a focus on coaching more principals of color. The results? New Leaders has already produced school principals in 28 states, with 60 percent of principals identifying as Black and/or Hispanic/Latinx. Furthermore, 1 of 5 principals goes on to lead at the district level. With a new partnership in place, aspiring principals and district leaders have even more opportunities to develop the necessary leadership skills and competencies to help close the representation gap.

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National Aspiring Principals Fellowship: how does it work

The Fellowship program is a flexible and interactive program combining online coursework, a year-long residency, and monthly one-on-one coaching. Due to the program’s flexibility, full-time education leaders can apply their learning on-site at their current school. The Fellowship prepares future leaders to:

  • Create an atmosphere that champions equity, excellence, and inclusion
  • Implement and constantly improve equitable systems and strategies
  • Blend personal and instructional leadership practices
  • Monitor and develop plans for success at the schoolwide and student level

The program’s cost per participant ranges from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on which track you pursue. To help offset costs, New Leaders plans to utilize more than $12.5 million in grants from donors and foundations to provide each student with a $5,000 scholarship if applying by June 2022 for the certification or by September 2022 for the combination track. The average cost to fill a principal vacancy is $75,000. Therefore, the price for growing an existing leader should provide an excellent return on investment.

National Aspiring Principals Fellowship: partners

New Leaders partners with two distinguished HBCUs—Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University—to operate the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship, now available in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In partnering with two HBCUs with generational experience in developing future leaders of color, this new Fellowship enhances the pipeline of principals of color. This joint trifecta merges New Leaders’ 20-year framework into an online certification and master’s degree program that provides direct access to the very communities the Fellowship aims to reach.

Morehouse College

Founded in 1867, Morehouse College is the only HBCU solely dedicated to higher learning opportunities for young black men. Prominent Morehouse graduates include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,Julian Bond, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Babatunde Olatunji, five Rhodes Scholars, and members of Congress. Morehouse boasts top rankings in various categories including best small college in Georgia, the leading producer of black male graduates in social sciences, and the top producer of black men who continue to earn a doctorate’s degree. Morehouse also ranks fourth in the nation as a top HBCU, according to the U.S. News & World Report 2022 rankings, moving up two spots from 2021.

Morehouse will offer a Principal Certification track as part of the Fellowship program extending the esteemed Morehouse learning experience beyond the campus. Morehouse president, Dr. David A. Thomas, states that using technology “[furthers] our mission to develop men with disciplined minds for lives of leadership and service and [prepares] principals with the skills, perspectives, and insight they need to be compassionate educators with high standards of excellence who embrace the potential of all children.”

Clark Atlanta University

Clark Atlanta University (CAU), established in 1988 after the consolidation of Atlanta University (1865) and Clark College (1869), combines two schools deeply rooted in African-American educational history. Atlanta University was the nation’s first institution to award graduate degrees to African Americans, and Clark College was the nation’s first four-year liberal arts college to primarily serve African-American students. In 2020, the U.S. News & World Report ranked CAU 13th among the top 20 HBCUs in the nation.

Building upon generations of educating future leaders, Dr. J. Fidel Turner, Dean of the Clark Atlanta School of Education, explains their partnership as “transforming the system so that every school is led by an equity-focused principal with the highest expectations for every child.” Clark Atlanta will offer professional learning opportunities through a Principal Certification and a Masters + Certification track with the Fellowship.

National Aspiring Principals Fellowship: How to apply

Application requirements vary by track. The Principal Certification track offers two cohorts per year, one beginning in January and the other in August. Applicants should have:

  • A valid teaching license
  • Two to three years of teaching experience
  • A master’s degree
  • A school-based leadership role

Participants can still work full-time in their schools, as the program includes on-the-job training to apply the curriculum learned in real-time.

If you don’t already have a master’s degree, no problem. Clark Atlanta offers a Principal Certification track along with a one-two combo Masters + Certification track with two cohorts per year (in January and August). Applicants should have a valid teaching license, at least two years of teaching experience, and a school-based leadership role for the dual concentration.

School districts can opt to sponsor prospective candidates, aspiring principals, and assistant principals interested in the Fellowship program by offering professional development and leadership development support through funding.

Growing the pipeline of equity-focused leaders is critical in building the next generation of school principals, administrators, superintendents, directors, and supervisors. It’s not just about increasing diversity in leadership positions to “check a box.” It’s about realizing the impact these roles have on shaping the learning environments of minority students that can bring about real change.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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