New Center Charts Course for School Leadership

Posted: June 2, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Educators in conversation
An “inaugural conversation” launched the new Northern Virginia School Leadership Center at Mason that will help school leaders adjust to evolving demands.

By Amy Biderman

Gone are the days when school leaders were simply managers. As schools face high-stakes challenges of improving student performance and reducing achievement gaps in learning, leaders have a new set of demands.

To respond to this evolving role, Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) is spearheading an effort to create a professional development center for school leaders in the region: The Northern Virginia School Leadership Center (NVSLC).

Partners for the effort include Alexandria City, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William County Public Schools.

“The shifting focus in school-leader responsibilities is attributable in part to dramatic changes in the landscape of educational leadership,” says project director Scott Bauer, a professor in the Graduate School of Education (GSE) of CEHD.

“Increasing diversity among schoolchildren, loss of confidence in public schools, political pressures associated with school choice and vouchers and increasing demands to improve test scores under high-stake accountability policies have all led to the changing role of school leaders,” says Bauer.

Focus on Three Core Areas

A design team of CEHD faculty and school district partners has been working on the vision and mission of the center since December 2006. Based on the Fairfax Campus, the center’s work will focus on three core areas: a fellows program, research, and professional development.

The centerpiece of the operation will be the fellows program, an intensive two-year leadership development experience for cohorts of administrators and teachers. The program will allow individuals to learn and practice specific leadership proficiencies associated with school improvement. Goals for participating schools include building an effective school leadership team, distributing leadership and applying leadership practice to improving student performance in a demonstrable way.

GSE associate professor David Brazer, who coordinates of the Education Leadership Program, says that fellowship schools essentially are learning labs. “These labs will address a set of leadership tools and processes that virtually every school in this country employs in school improvement planning.”

“They’ll build upon concepts associated with effective leadership for school improvement,” he continues, “particularly the notion that distributed leadership emerges from interactions among leaders, followers and challenges in a professional learning community.”

The fellows program also will work with principals and their leadership teams to engage in cycles of school improvement planning, implementation and evaluation designed to resolve persistent problems and reduce achievement gaps in student learning.

The leadership center will offer an array of research, evaluation and grant-writing support services that take advantage of the capabilities of Mason faculty and students. For example, the center will offer on-demand “research briefs” that respond to questions posed by school leaders.

In addition, the center will facilitate the collection of longitudinal data on fellowship schools and provide them with periodic reports on their progress. The research office also will be available for program evaluation projects and collaborate with schools and partner districts to seek external funding for research projects that benefit member schools.

“A hallmark of the center will be an integration of research into leadership development programs and practices,” Bauer says. “As such, each fellow’s school will be treated as a longitudinally tracked case study in leadership for school improvement. Research teams will collect a variety of data during and after the fellowship period, thus providing a wealth of information to the leadership teams and affording university faculty an opportunity to learn from these schools’ experiences.”

County school leaders are particularly excited about the center’s research component, says John O’Connor, supervisor of staff development for Loudoun County Public Schools, who is also a member of the design team.

“Having access to the vast research resources of George Mason University to keep school staff abreast of the best and most current information available on important issues is extremely valuable,” he says.

In addition, school leaders in each partner district will have opportunities to engage in professional learning opportunities and develop a robust network of peers. Each year, the center will sponsor regional conferences, conversations and leadership development services. To enhance existing services of the school districts, the center also will serve as a structure through which school administrators can craft a regional menu of leadership development opportunities.

“Inaugural Conversation” Launches Center

In April, the NVSLC held its “inaugural conversation” at the Fairfax Campus. About 60 school leaders attended the meeting, which focused on leadership for social justice – one of CEHD’s core values.

Scott Bauer talks to school leaders
Scott Bauer, Graduate School of Education professor, leads a session at the NVSLC’s “inaugural conversation.”
Photos by Evan Cantwell

At the same time, the design team is working to share its vision of the center and related goals with as many potential donors as possible. With the receipt of a lead $15,000 gift from an anonymous individual donor, efforts are focused on identifying other sources of support – individual, foundation and corporate – to ensure the center is well funded.

With the successful launch of the NVSLC, Bauer has high aspirations for the future.

“Effective school leadership is among the most potent ingredients in promoting school improvement, especially in challenging school settings,” he says.

“Through the creation of the center, we hope to foster professional development that provides school leaders with the tools they need to maximize their potential and effectively meet the demands of their multifaceted roles.”

“We have had a long and positive relationship with Mason over the years in training new leaders through our cohort program,” says design team member Meg Tuccillo, director of administrative services for Arlington County Public Schools.

“The Leadership Center concept is a natural extension of that relationship and will allow Arlington’s school leaders broader opportunities to benefit from the shared expertise of other leaders in the region.”

For more information on the NVSLC, contact Bauer at

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the College of Education and Human Development Magazine.

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