Building Community and Capacity through the Mississippi Principal Impact Fellowship
A year ago, eight principals joined the Mississippi Principals Impact Fellowship, the product of a partnership between Teach For America - Mississippi and the Barksdale Reading Institute, through grants provided by BRI and Kern Family Foundation. The fellowship was designed by TFA-MS alumni Krystal (MS Delta ‘04) and Michael Cormack (MS Delta ‘03) to provide ongoing development, training and support for alumni and non-alumni principals in Mississippi by their participation in a cohort-based support network for administrators who want to grow their schools, their skills, and increase the academic outcomes for their students. The leaders gathered for multiple learning experiences across the course of the year, which culminated with an “Impact Project” pitch contest in March.
The Impact Fellows joined skill-building workshops with organizations such as The Parents’ Campaign, the National School Reform Faculty and The Together Group. Through these workshops, the Principal Fellows have focused on a variety of skills, including using social media to communicate effectively to parents and communities. Principal Braxton Stowe (MS ‘11) leveraged his new social media skills to raise funds to send a group of students to Spain this summer. He said, “I loved that this fellowship was centered on developing principals to improve student achievement at their schools. Principals spend their time developing their teachers and other stakeholders. It was so refreshing to have someone pouring into me.”
The National School Reform Faculty trained the leaders on using protocols for professional learning in groups in their schools called “Critical Friends Groups,” where the critical stands for important, or essential. Teachers and staff at the various schools will be able to form effective professional learning communities under the leadership of these principals and their new skills.
In January, the principals participated in Capitol Day, where they toured the Mississippi State Capitol building. The Impact Fellows met with State Superintendent Carey Wright to discuss upcoming education legislation and changes. They joined a Senate Education Committee hearing at the invitation of Committee Chair Senator Gray Tollison, and met with him privately to ask questions and learn more about the contentious EdBuild funding formula proposal. The leaders engaged with legislators, state education officials and lobbyists to make connections. The goal was that the principals learn to more effectively advocate for policy that positively impacts their students.
The Principal Fellows concluded on March 25, at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. Each leader proposed a “Principal Impact Project,” a research-based project designed to compete to earn $10,000 for their schools. Each fellow identified a problem in their school community, and proposed a solution for that problem using research-based action. The principals proposed their idea in front of an audience of Teach For America corps members, alumni and entrepreneurs who judged their ideas in Shark Tank-like fashion. The Barksdale Reading Institute offered $10,000 for the research projects, and plans to utilize the outcomes and data to provide potential solutions to other school leaders across the state.
School leader Alice Goldsberry (MS ‘07) remarked that, “the Principals Impact Fellowship allowed me to collaborate with leaders who pushed my own thinking. As a first year principal, I was able to take snippets of their knowledge and experiences, as well as professional development from external leaders, to make me more effective, efficient and intentional in my new role.” Principal Cody Shumaker (MS ‘08) agreed, noting that “the Mississippi Principals Impact Fellowship provided a robust curriculum targeted toward practitioners with a tangible end result. I can honestly say I am a far better administrator after the completion of the fellowship and have a quality network of peers to bounce ideas and programs off.
The second cohort of the program will begin in September and run through May, 2018. The program application will launch August 21, 2017. Interested leaders with an administrator license are invited to apply.