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Lynch Leadership Academy

October 2012

Looking through a business lens, school principals learn
to lead

by William Bole

Managers and executives “have tons of programs” available to them for leadership training, says Carroll School Dean Andy Boynton. But leaders of schools, whose success depends in no small part on finding ways to innovate and manage organizational change,  “don’t usually get exposed” to tried-and-tested ways of doing either, he says.

Indeed, despite a growing national consensus that school principals who improve teacher and student performance should draw on the sort of skills typically taught in management programs, education leadership training rarely includes managerial components, and school leaders seldom have opportunities to learn from one another and from national experts in management and education, according to Maureen Kenny, interim dean of the Lynch School of Education.

Two years ago, Boston College and the Lynch Foundation launched a project that helps address this gap: the Lynch Leadership Academy. Funded with a $20 million gift from the foundation, the academy provides training and assessment, expert coaching, and ongoing support to up to 25 early and mid-career school principals of Boston Catholic, charter, and district schools. The goal of the academy is to build the kind of leadership capacity that will drive student achievement in urban schools. Opened under the auspices of the school of education, the Lynch Leadership Academy has evolved into a formal partnership between Lynch and the Carroll schools.

Research indicates that quality teaching is crucial to student achievement, and that school principals are in the best position to ensure that students are exposed to effective instruction year after year, observes Kenny. But today’s principals must not only develop instructional and curricular leadership skills but be versed in “organizational change” and other imperatives, including marketing. (These days, even public schools are forced to raise funds.)

The Lynch Leadership Academy hopes to foster a national model for school leadership development. A key feature of this model is the selection of talented school principals as Lynch Fellows, who come together regularly throughout the year for in-depth training, retreats, and other discussions. There is a two-week intensive summer institute for the Fellows, along with frequent school visits by outside experts who help principals assess their progress.

Basically, the academy is offering principals a “business lens” for looking at leadership challenges such as project management, budgeting, and branding, says Thaly Germain, recently appointed as the academy’s first full-time director. The effort is unique, she says, in that it brings together principals from both district and charter schools as well as Catholic schools.  

A former charter school principal in the District of Columbia who comes to Boston College from the nonprofit education group New Leaders, Germain predicts the academy will have trained more than a quarter of the principals of district, charter, and Catholic schools in Boston within five years. “We’re looking to transform the Boston landscape of leadership development in schools,” she says, noting that one of her priorities is to help school leaders act on solid data. That includes opinion surveys among teachers, parents, and students.

“At the end of the day, they’re leading an organization,” Boynton says of the principals charged with managing change. “And that’s what management education is all about.”