Green Dot’s AIR Program is Developing the Urban Public School Leaders of the Future

AIR Program alum Damon Hands and students

By Xochitl Avellan, AIR Program Director

Thousands of under-performing public schools across America are in need of a highly effective leaders. The federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program identified 4,830 persistently low-performing schools in need of urgent intervention and, through a competitive grant process, awarded $3.5 billion to 835 schools to enact school-wide reforms under new school leadership. Three years later, a third of schools had failed to make improvements in math and English proficiency, representing a loss of investment of $1.6 billion in federal funds and thousands of students left unprepared for college or career success.

While many college-based administrator training programs focus on the important issues of legal compliance or social justice in education, only 11% of a traditional curriculum considers methods for identifying and rewarding high-quality teaching, only 5% discusses student data in the context of school improvement, and just 2% addresses issues of accountability. Current college-based principal training programs are failing to meet the needs of the most persistently low-performing schools; 80% of superintendents believe that leadership training in education is “out of touch” with the realities of today’s districts.

A new kind of school leader — and a new kind of leadership training — is needed.

Green Dot’s Administrators-in-Residence (AIR) is a paid leadership training program that seeks to increase the number of highly effective school leaders successfully turning around the country’s most persistently low-performing schools through three research-based program components: relevant curriculum, supported immersion, and collaborative problem solving. The program was recently approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to award a Preliminary Administrator Services Credential to successful program graduates. By 2020, the program will have trained and placed over 100 graduates within Green Dot schools and plans to partner with other districts in the future to expand the program’s impact.

Relevant Curriculum

Throughout the year-long training, each cohort of Residents follows a rigorous curriculum that covers vital aspects of successful school leadership with a focus on closing achievement gaps between students from low-income communities and their more affluent peers. The curriculum is delivered in 35 four-hour seminars every Friday throughout the school year. Subjects covered include the design and implementation of impactful professional development, personalized coaching based on fair and meaningful classroom evaluation, data collection and analysis to inform decision-making, and building positive relationships with parents and the broader community.

Supported immersion

Residents begin applying their leadership theory in the real world from the outset. Under the guidance of Green Dot principals, Residents rotate through four school-based placements, working as an integral part of the school’s leadership team while putting conceptual learning into practice. Residencies provide ongoing opportunities to contextualize sometimes abstract concepts and learn directly from experienced school leaders, teachers, curriculum specialists, counselors, and support staff. All Residents are supported by assigned mentors who provide continuous professional development in a collaborative learning environment. Over the course of the training year, Residents receive over 2,000 hours of direct mentorship.

AIR School Immersion

Of all my years in education, my most fruitful year was in the AIR program. The school site residency rotations are the heart of the AIR program and my growth. By rotating through four different sites both middle and high school, independent and transformational, I was able to participate on various school leadership teams and be coached by willing, experienced mentors through perfect practice. It is through these rotations that I felt fully prepared to begin my year as a first-year assistant principal. 

Michelle Ahn, Assistant Principal at Ánimo James B. Taylor Charter Middle School

Collaborative problem solving

AIR Creative Problem Solving

Green Dot principals and assistant principals are expected to lead schools to excellence and, in many instances, turn around persistently low-performing schools. To do so requires that leaders are empowered to make key decisions about their schools, from the recruitment of teachers to budget allocation. Success requires a shared vision, consensus among all stakeholders, open and honest communication, and keen task management and project planning skills. All this and more is delivered through a program that goes beyond simply training school administrators, and offers instead an opportunity to be part of a new generation of dynamic school leaders.

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