Graduates of new principal training program are transforming local schools

Recent studies on school principal turnover have found that “full-time job-embedded internships” show the most promise in developing school leaders who are not only prepared for the job but are committed to staying at their school for at least five years – the time needed to create long-lasting changes.

The Philadelphia Pathway to Leadership in Urban Schools, or PhillyPLUS, is embracing this concept by training school leaders through real-life experiences working with students and teachers in some of Philadelphia’s highest poverty schools.

Jessica Ramos, a graduate of the program and first year principal at the Allen M. Stearne School in North Philadelphia, spent all of the 2013-14 school year as a principal resident at Stearne through the PhillyPLUS program. During this time, she was responsible for coaching a small group of teachers and performing other administrative tasks.

When the current principal announced she was retiring at the end of the last school year, parents at Stearne banded together and secured over 500 signatures to retain Ramos as the school’s new principal. She happily accepted.

“What makes PhillyPLUS different from traditional administrator certifications is the focus on accountability for principals, high level of preparation, and attention to on-the-job training,” said Ramos. “As principals, we need to be effective leaders, communicators, coaches and counselors, in addition to being the school nurse, police officer or any other job that needs attention. The PhillyPLUS program provides mentorship opportunities from peers and experienced administrators that allow residents to learn and grow along with the students and teachers they serve.”

The Allen M. Stearne School has increased in size over the past two years with the addition of 7th and 8th grades and a steady stream of transfer students from other district and charter schools. Even with the influx of new students, Ramos has been able to cut suspensions in half this year (2.1 percent compared to 4.9 percent last year) through a unique system of positive behavior support.

“My personal philosophy when it comes to disciplining students is that suspensions don’t work,” she explains. “Obviously suspensions still happen, but we now have a system in place where students facing suspension are sent home with a specific set of action items like counseling or anger management to address the problem. If the student and parent get the help that we prescribe, then we take off the suspension and mark it as an excused absence. This way we are able to incentivize getting help instead of forcing the student to fall behind due to being out of the school for several days.”

PhillyPLUS is currently in its second year of training principals in Philadelphia to serve in district, charter and Catholic schools. To learn more about PhillyPLUS, visit: http://www.phillyplus.org

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