Opening a new school is a big challenge. Successfully establishing a new school brings a range of problems that principals in innovative schools don't have to solve alone.
With support from Jodi Anderson, director of the North Carolina Center for Educational Leadership at NC New Schools, all principals in NC New Schools-affiliated schools benefit from professional development and coaching services to help them navigate this new territory. "The old model is principal-as-manager," Anderson says. "An innovative principal must be able to communicate with and influence a wide range of people, be knowledgeable about instruction and develop strong relationships with all stakeholders at the school."
In traditional high schools, principals lead a team of assistant principals, each of whom is responsible for a specific area-discipline, instruction, and so on. This hierarchy of leaders typically doesn't exist in innovative high schools.
"Our model assumes that all staff are leaders," Anderson says. "Our principals' strength lies in their ability to build capacity and empower others. Principals have to be able to support leadership at all levels, including students, counselors and teachers, while also connecting with their district leaders and their higher education partners. Then they have to be able to leverage those relationships to improve student achievement and support rigorous instruction."
Part of Anderson's role is to design leadership and professional development offerings targeted at the needs of innovative principals with a range of backgrounds, which for many means following a non-traditional path to the job. Principals participate in up to 20 professional development sessions per year, including the New Principal Institute, Common Practices Symposia, Summer Institute and Peer School Reviews.
In addition to the wealth of training and development opportunities, NC New Schools also provides leadership coaching for principals. Anderson has helped create and refine a research-based, customized coaching model that provides support to principals rather than formal evaluation. For many principals, having a leadership coach is a new experience, so building trust in the relationship is key, says Anderson.
"The most dynamic leaders are those who actively seek feedback," she says. "Most of our principals are receptive to hearing tough things from their coach because they trust in that relationship and they want to be responsive."
Dana Diesel, vice president of school development for NC New Schools, works with Anderson in cultivating principal leaders. "Jodi has a passion for working with our principals to ensure that all students graduate ready for college," says Diesel. "She routinely asks how we can improve our services to principals and school staff and is becoming a leader in our efforts to expand leadership development to district office leaders."
Anderson brings more than 28 years of experience as an educator and student advocate. She began her teaching career in Virginia as a middle and high school science teacher, then went on to serve as an elementary, middle and high school principal in Granville County. Anderson also has worked at the district level as testing and accountability director, elementary and middle school director, and most recently as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
In her doctoral dissertation, which focused on male dropouts in rural schools, Anderson identified new research that has fueled her passion to help all students succeed. She holds a bachelor's degree in botany from DePauw University, a master's degree in educational leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix.