Aspiring Principals Program (National) Frequently Asked Questions

Purpose & History

  • What will the Aspiring Principals Program (APP) help my district achieve?

    Leadership Pipeline
    APP will enable your district to create an internal leadership pipeline of school leaders who are prepared to meet the increased expectations for principals in this highly accountable climate. Principals are expected to serve as instructional leaders who coach and nurture teachers while simultaneously holding them accountable for student performance; generate support for reforms that may be met with skepticism by teachers and parents; push data-driven analysis to drive student learning while also attending to the comprehensive social, emotional, academic, and safety needs of every child; and build a collaborative, trusting professional community among teachers while also determining which teachers might not be the right for the school. And as principals are being asked to take on an increasing complex role in their schools, they must also continue to have a laser focus on providing an equitable school experience for students.

    The APP curriculum therefore develops principals with considerable leadership capacity, communication skills, instructional expertise, cultural competency, political savvy and analytical sophistication, and who are ready to lead the most challenging schools effectively. APP is a perfect fit for current assistant principals and teacher leaders who have not traditionally been provided with effective leadership development opportunities aligned to the changing role of the principal.

    When you enroll candidates in APP, your district will begin to network with districts both within and outside of your state. These new colleagues can bring new ideas and opportunities to your system, and share educational practices and build coherence across districts. The aspiring principal participants and mentor principals will join their own virtual professional learning networks (PLN) and these virtual PLNs will continue to function as professional resources long after the aspiring principals program ends.

  • What does the APP entail?

    APP is a rigorous, standards-based, experiential program that develops school leaders who are committed to promoting equity of educational opportunities for all students. The program includes a summer intensive followed by a school-based practicum within the home district, supplemented by a blended curriculum of in-person and online learning experiences.

    NYCLA believes the best way to learn to be a school leader is to live it; therefore, the best learning experiences for aspiring principals are simulated and real leadership challenges. During the summer intensive, participants assume the principalship of a scenario school, making decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions. The year-long school-based practicum under the mentorship of a district principal then provides aspiring principals the opportunity to practice the work of the principal while back in district schools, becoming responsible for leading change during this year and receiving feedback on their work. Aspiring principals continue to learn from and network with their peers from the summer intensive through the blended coursework which involves school-based leadership work, virtual coursework and sessions, in-person sessions and school site visits. During the year, the participants continue to collaborate and build a network that will serve them after they have completed the program.

    The combination of the intensive summer simulation and the practicum experience enables participants to engage in the authentic work of school leadership and reflect on their experiences prior to assuming the role of principal. To ensure that participants emerge conversant in and knowledgeable about the structures, systems, and data they will use in their day-to-day work, both the summer intensive and the practicum curriculum are designed to address the needs and priorities of participating districts.

    NYCLA Facilitator Role
    Participants are supported by NYCLA facilitators who guide their learning and reflection throughout the summer intensive and blended practicum coursework, and who visit participants at their school sites during the practicum. Facilitators get to know each aspiring principal well and monitor his/her growth from the beginning to the end of the program; they continuously assess and revise curriculum to support the aspiring principals in their context.

    Participant Role
    Participants are expected to assume responsibility for their own growth, identifying and addressing their personal learning needs as they strive to meet standards and become principal-ready during the APP year. They are also expected to support the growth of their cohort members as they build this professional learning network.

    Mentor Role
    Mentors are the principals at practicum school sites. They provide critical support to aspiring principals and play a number of roles in their development. The mentor and facilitator communicate frequently and have the collaborative responsibility of assessing the aspiring principal’s progress, providing timely feedback, and ensuring he/she is provided with opportunities for developing the skills needed to be a successful principal.

  • What impact has APP had?

    More than 500 principals have graduated NYCLA’s New York City-based APP to date who are achieving very promising results based on an independent evaluation by New York University. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP) at NYU, schools led by APP graduates showed significant improvements in English Language Arts and Mathematics and substantial progress in closing the achievement gaps in ELA and math scores against comparable schools within just three years.

    IESP found that APP graduates in the study entered higher-need schools—they were more likely than their peers to be placed in elementary and middle schools with higher concentrations of African American and Latino students and students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Their schools also had significantly lower student achievement and attendance rates when they took over as principals, as well as lower proportions of experienced teachers than those of the schools led by comparison principals. IESP found that APP-led schools cut the ELA performance gap between their schools and comparison schools in half. In math, the performance gap was virtually eliminated in years three and beyond. In a prior study (2009), IESP found that APP graduates were also making headway with student subgroups. Their schools narrowed the achievement gap by moving 11.2% more students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), 11.4% more students classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP) and 8.4% more African American students toward graduation than comparison schools, as measured by the percent of students earning 10+ credits in 2006-07. Each of these findings is statistically significant.

    New York City APP has been evaluated by other outside entities as well as NYU:

    • The Mathematics Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) found that 89% of APP graduates reported that their NYCLA training experience was “very relevant to their work [as principal],” with the remaining 11% deeming the training “relevant.” 
    • The Education Development Corporation rated NYCLA’s program curriculum design a 4+ on their four-point scale based on the characteristics of effective principal preparation programs.

    Visit our Results page for more information.

Program Components

  • What does the coursework in the summer intensive include?

    The participants become the principals of a scenario school and what brings this simulated school experience to life is a series of actual tasks that real principals do regularly, which allow participants to practice being school leaders. 

    Summer Intensive topics include:

    • Vision, values and analysis of data
    • Culture and the social context of schooling
    • Standards, curriculum and assessment
    • Building capacity
    • Systems thinking, resource allocation and managing vision
  • Why a simulation school?

    Simulations have long been used in medical and administrative training programs and have proven to be an effective tool to foster the critical reasoning and effective collaboration necessary for tackling complex problems. Simulating the authentic work of the principal gives the participants experience leading a team to a product and working under tight deadlines, an opportunity to practice distributive leadership, and the skill of self-assessing and getting feedback on their practice.

    Simulated schools also offer the benefit of a controlled, low-risk environment that introduces participants to the types of challenges they will face as school leaders in real time—without immediate consequences for actual schools, teachers, or students. The simulation school highlights the interconnectedness of school issues. In living the job, participants experience how their mental models shape their perceptions and actions; how their actions play out in schools, including unanticipated consequences; how feedback loops operate; and how an understanding of system dynamics can help identify the most promising levers for change and points for intervention. Constant scrutiny, feedback, and time pressures are centerpieces of the experience, as participants learn to cope with unexpected challenges while working toward strict deadlines, all under the microscope of observation.

  • What are the essential elements of the blended practicum curriculum?
    • School-based leadership work aligned to ongoing assignments 
      • During the practicum year, each participants is expected to have job-embedded experiences where they are provided with opportunities to:
        • lead an instructional team
        • observe and provide feedback to teachers in content areas that lie outside their areas of expertise
        • carry out school walkthroughs
        • participate on leadership teams
        • debrief regularly with the mentor principal.
    • Virtual coursework and sessions 
    • In-person sessions 
    • On-site coaching visits
    • Resource library
  • What topics are covered in the blended learning program?

    The spiraled units of the summer intensive curriculum plays out in the practicum and are aligned to the school year calendar as participants apply their learning to the realities in their school, and reflect on the intended and unintended consequences of their decisions. The practicum begins with a focus on identifying patterns and trends in student data and the school culture in order for participants to detect strengths and weaknesses that they can leverage in their work over the course of the year. Going forwards, participants learn to facilitate and lead collaborative instructional teams, communicate effectively with multiple stakeholders, manage resources, and build competence in systems thinking.

  • What is the school-based practicum timeframe?

    The blended practicum will take place from mid-August through mid-May. NYCLA facilitators will review calendars of participating districts and provide a detailed calendar in April 2016 that will include dates for the twice-monthly virtual sessions and five two-day in-person sessions during the practicum year. On-site coaching visits will be conducted quarterly and will be based on each school’s calendar.

  • What is the time commitment required during the school-based practicum?
    • Teacher leaders in classrooms must be released 6-8 hours per week from teaching responsibilities to engage in the leadership experiences described above.
    • Assistant principals that do not currently have observation and instructional leadership responsibilities must be released 6-8 hours per week from their current responsibilities to engage in the leadership experiences described above.
    • Outside of the school-based leadership experiences, participants must commit 4-6 hours per week of their own time to complete online coursework and readings, and to document their work on the job-embedded assignments.
    • In-person sessions are held every 6-8 weeks and take place over two consecutive school days at the NYC Leadership Academy.
  • How is participant readiness assessed during the program?

    NYC Leadership Academy uses its own Leadership Performance Standards Matrix to gauge progress throughout the APP year. These standards outline the skills, knowledge, and competencies aspiring principals need to be effective school leaders. The matrix was informed by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration’s Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (formerly the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards for School Leaders) as well as the research of the Center for Performance Assessment. APP facilitators use these standards to ensure that the curriculum is on target, and as a framework to assess participant progress and, ultimately, readiness for the principalship.

Recruitment & Admissions

Role of the Mentor Principal

  • Who serves as a mentor principal?

    Mentors are the principals at the practicum sites of participants. Districts are expected to take responsibility for selection of mentors.

    Districts decide if participants will remain in their current school for the practicum or will be placed in another district school. If the district decides to place a participant in another school, we encourage districts to assess the learning needs of the participant and the strengths of principals in the district, then place a participant with a mentor that will be able to push him/her in areas of need.

  • What is the role of a mentor?

    A mentor provides critical support for the aspiring principal and plays a number of roles in his/her development. The mentor and facilitator have the collaborative responsibility of assessing the aspiring principal’s progress and ensuring he/she receives opportunities for learning the needed skills to be a successful principal. During school site visits, the NYCLA facilitator and mentor observe, coach, assess, and provide critical feedback to support the leadership development of the aspiring principal.

    • Mentors build capacity in the aspiring principal by: 
      • allowing the aspiring principal to try various approaches when solving complex problems 
      • assigning meaningful school-based work 
      • allowing the aspiring principal to take risks and participate in high-stakes decision making
      • delegating authority to the aspiring principal 
    • Mentors facilitate the aspiring principal’s learning by: 
      • designing scaffolded learning experiences (observing, participating, collaborating, leading) consistent with the principles of adult learning 
      • creating learning experiences that assist the aspiring principal in developing skills needed to lead a school, particularly in areas of systems and strategic thinking as well as problem-solving
      • addressing the aspiring principal’s individual needs, the needs of the school and the requirements of the Academy/program 
      • setting goals and expectations 
      • being transparent about their decision making process and sharing mistakes
  • What supports should the district plan to provide mentors?
    • Release time for the two NYCLA training sessions
    • Regular communications with the district’s designated APP point person

NYCLA & District Partnership

  • What support does NYCLA provide the district office?

    The NYCLA account and engagement owner will be knowledgeable about the context and leadership pipeline goals of the district. The NYCLA engagement owner will have up-to-date knowledge of the project status and status of district participants; and will set up a communications plan with the designated district point person.

  • What administrative support is the district office expected to put in place for this program?

    Districts need to have a designated point person in the district office to be NYCLA’s contact on the ground. The district point person should communicate regularly with mentor principals, and ideally conduct a fall and spring school site visit to work with the mentor and aspiring principal. It would be ideal for the designated point person to have time allocated specifically for this program. There should also be time set aside for a district employee to hand the APP administrative district details (payroll, travel stipends, etc.)

  • What structures will the district need to ensure are in place at the practicum sites for program goals to be met?
    • Practicum agreement co-developed and signed by the mentor, participant, facilitator and designed district point person. The agreement will codify the structures that will be put in place for the participants to have the following job-embedded experiences: 
      • lead an instructional team
      • observe and provide feedback to teachers outside of their current content area
      • engage in school walkthroughs
      • sit on leadership teams
      • engage in leadership work and
      • reflective debriefs with the mentor principal.