Dear Secretary DeVos, Sen. Blunt, Sen. Murray, Sen. Alexander, Rep. Cole, Rep. DeLauro, Rep. Foxx, and Rep. Scott,

To transform schools, you need strong school leaders.

President Trump’s proposal to cut $9 billion from the U.S. Department of Education, particularly his call to eliminate all funding for the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, a.k.a., Title II, Part A, removes the federal government from the business of school leader development. This move goes against everything we know about what makes schools great. I am writing to urge you to consider the critical role the federal government plays in assuring that all schools around the country, charter and district, particularly schools in need of tremendous improvement, have strong leaders at the helm.

The research is clear: We can’t have great schools without great school leaders. Leaders from both parties recognized and addressed this through ESSA last year, including support for states to provide high quality training for school leaders. As I’m sure you know, leading a school is a very tough job. Principals need to know how to lead teachers in improving instruction for all students; how to create and maintain a safe and supportive school culture in which all children are valued; and how to work with families and communities to ensure students’ success for all students. These are just some of the best school leader practices that experts across the field have identified as being critical for transforming schools.

As we focus on giving our children the skills they need to succeed in college and careers, we need to ensure our principals know how to lead their schools in ways that ensure students are learning. These skills are not necessarily intuitive, and are not typically learned on the job as teachers. Principals need effective support and training to develop and continually improve their leadership practices. Research has found that high-quality school leader preparation requires, among other things, experiential learning, ideally in the form of an in-school residency, and the support of a mentor to guide the aspiring leader through her training.

The federal government can play a critical role in two ways: First, the Department of Education, under your leadership, can send a message to states that developing and supporting strong school leaders is critical to a school’s success. The importance of and need for strong principals is true across the U.S. All children deserve great principals to ensure they get the best possible learning opportunities, whether in Missouri, Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina, or Michigan.

To make it possible for states to do this work, you must also maintain the federal school leader programs already in place. As you might imagine, effective school leader training is not cheap. Conservative estimates place the cost at about $50,000 per principal. “What?!” you might say. “What do we get for that investment?” Well, for one thing, principals who are trained well are more likely to stay in their school leader roles. At the NYC Leadership Academy, our aspiring principals program aligns to research-based school leader development principles, and our practices have shown results: 85 percent of the hundreds of aspiring leaders we have trained in New York City since 2003 are still in educational leadership positions, most of them as principals. Because of their training, they have felt equipped to stay in this tough job.

States, districts, and charter management organizations pay a much higher price when they don’t invest in quality training. When a principal leaves a school, students’ reading and math achievement drop, and the district has to spend at least $75,000 to train, hire and place a new principal.  

You and your agency can lead states and districts in being shrewder with their funds by maintaining some of the federal programs already in place for growing our nation’s pool of great school leaders:

  • Title II, Part A, funds state efforts to prepare, train, recruit and retain effective teachers and school leaders, and can be used to revise evaluation systems, reform school leader preparation programs, and develop critically needed residency and mentoring programs.
  • The School Leader Recruitment and Support Program (SLRSP), formerly the School Leadership Program, provides funds for states and districts to recruit, train, place, support, and retain effective school leaders in high-need schools.
  • The Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program provides funds to universities and non-profit organizations, particularly nontraditional programs serving high-need districts, to recruit, select, and prepare, or provide professional development for teachers, principals, or other school leaders.
  • The Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund offers a range of supports for teachers and principals, including coaching and job-embedded professional development. This program is intended to rethink educator pipelines to get the best talent in schools that need them most, in part by offering performance-based compensation.
  • The Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program (formerly the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund) encourages educators to come up with innovative leadership models and learn more about what works best. This program supports states, districts, or non-profit organizations in developing, researching and expanding innovative strategies and interventions for addressing persistent education challenges.

Without strong school leaders, we will never transform our schools. We urge you to maintain and increase federal support for school leadership.


Irma Zardoya

President & CEO, NYC Leadership Academy


Irma Zardoya

President & CEO

Irma Zardoya has been President & CEO of NYC Leadership Academy since 2011. Born and raised in the Bronx, Ms. Zardoya has been an innovative agent for change on behalf of New York City public school students during her extensive career as a New York City education leader. Prior to joining NYC Leadership Academy, she served as a consultant to the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) in the role of Executive Director of the Office of Achievement Resources. In that role, she supported the launch of collaborative inquiry teacher teamwork citywide and rollout of the NYCDOE’s accountability tools.

From 2003 to 2006, Ms. Zardoya served as Superintendent of the former Region One in the Bronx, where she oversaw a portfolio of 134 schools. During her tenure, Region One demonstrated significant improvements in student achievement. She served as Superintendent of Community School District 10 in the Bronx, the city’s largest district. Under her leadership, District 10 was recognized as a successful, educationally progressive district strongly committed to leadership development and building an effective leadership continuum from teacher to superintendent. This work earned her district a five-year grant from The Wallace Foundation to support its comprehensive leadership development program.

Before joining District 10, Ms. Zardoya served as Deputy Superintendent of Community School District One on the Lower East Side, where she was instrumental in the development of “schools of choice,” an initiative that supported small learner-centered nurturing environments for students. She was principal of Community School 211, The Bilingual School, for nine years and, before that, the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent of Community School District 12. She began her career as a bilingual professional assistant and taught for seven years.

Irma was a member of the advisory group that developed the Principals’ Institute at Bank Street College in the late 1980’s, which addressed the need to recruit and develop minorities and women to become principals in the New York City educational system. She is also on the Governor’s Commission on Education. Irma taught as an adjunct professor at Bank Street College and Long Island University, and participated in the Educational Policy Fellowship Program, Washington D.C., Institute for Educational Leadership. She has served on the New York State Commissioner’s Advisory Council on Bilingual Education and the Advisory Council for the Center for Educational Leadership of the New York Urban Coalition. She earned her MS degree from City College in Supervision and Administration and a BS degree from Thomas More College, Fordham University. She also participated in the Superintendent’s Leadership Institute at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Government.