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Kansas City School District looks to businesses for principals

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | 11:06 a.m. CDT; updated 9:26 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 18, 2010

KANSAS CITY — The Chamber of Commerce crowd has insisted they want to help the Kansas City School District — and on Wednesday, the district gave them a surprising option:

Become a principal — this coming school year.

If the district could find good matches, corporate managers might take charge of one or two schools still without a principal, said Steve Harris, assistant superintendent of human resources.

"It would be kind of like a TFA (Teach for America) for principals," Harris said after the forum with civic leaders.

TFA is a national organization that recruits college graduates in other fields and trains them to serve in some of the nation's neediest schools.

Harris imagines that a corporate manager might be willing to take a one-year sabbatical, go through intensive training and learn about education from the inside.

"We need strong leadership," he said. "We also believe the community wants to be invested in what we're doing, understand what we do and how we do it."

In the recent process of closing 40 percent of the schools in the district, all principals had to reapply for their jobs. Superintendent John Covington left a few positions open.

It's hard to imagine, said teachers union president Andrea Flinders, that any process could prepare a novice principal by the first day of school, Aug. 30 — though she agrees that the schools and the community could gain from the shared experience.

Missouri principal certification "requires you to teach for at least five years, and there's a reason for that," Flinders said. "I think it would be very, very challenging."

While the principal proposal may be unusual, the district overall relished a spirit of collaboration with members of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City at levels not seen in many years.

Participants in the chamber's Kansas City Revealed Regional Benchmarking Tour talked of ways to share talent.

The enthusiasm in the district's new leadership seems well-founded, said panelist Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools.

The district, however, needs to hold to its vision, he said. And the community needs to maintain its support through "the glitches" to come.

 


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