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State selects Marian to train turnaround leaders

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The Indiana Department of Education has awarded Marian University a $500,000 contract to operate a Turnaround Leadership Academy, designed to train school leaders who can lead rapid improvements at struggling schools.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced the contract Wednesday morning at his Statehouse office.

Bennett wants to have “nimble” leaders to help put into action the state's looming intervention into 22 schools next year. It will be the first time the education department will have the authority to take over failing schools.

“Especially in these turnaround situations, we have to have leaders that are courageous and understand the urgency of making data-driven decisions that may be difficult to improve education as quickly as possible in these schools,” Bennett said, adding that such skills are also present in many of Indiana’s existing school principals.

Marian, a small Catholic school in Indianapolis, will launch the program in September, with hopes of enrolling 100 students in each of the next five years.

The students can come from inside and outside education, including existing and aspiring school administrators. They can use the program to earn principal licensure after one year or simply to learn leadership and management skills. The final two years of the curriculum consist of a mentorship program.

The three-year program will cost $18,000 per student, with Marian planning to cover two-thirds of those costs, on average, for the first 100 students.

Those scholarships will be supported by the state money as well as $500,000 Marian will receive from the Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation. The school is trying to raise another $3 million to $4 million to pay for scholarships for future classes.

The Kern Foundation has also funded an entrepreneurial MBA program at the University of Notre Dame, which has a similar goal as Marian’s program. Notre Dame plans to enroll 15 students in that program this fall.

Lindan Hill, Marian’s dean of education, created Marian’s leadership academy and will oversee its operation.  He said Indiana’s public schools need leaders trained in a combination of management, analytical and educational skills to turn schools around.

Students at the Turnaround Leadership Academy will come to Marian’s campus on Saturdays for seminars led by education reformers and management gurus. The instructors will include Ian Mitroff, a crisis management author; Samuel Casey Carter, a fellow at the Center for Education Reform think tank; and Doug Lemov, the founder of a Boston charter school and now an education consultant.

There will also be local instructors, such as Kathleen Carter, a retiring associate principal of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, and Jane Ajabu-Hart, the former director of personnel at Indianapolis Public Schools.

“Basically, what we have is a crisis,” Hill said of K-12 education in Indiana. “We have to have a fierce sense of urgency about making a difference for the better in the lives of students.”

Current principals often bristle at such comments, saying they overlook the tremendous complexities of operating public schools and the challenges posed by disengaged parents. Deans of education schools, who handle most principal training in Indiana, say they’re already teaching data analysis, school law and other “business” issues school leaders need to know.

Steve Baker, the president of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said in an April interview that the notion that business-management training will transform schools is misplaced.

“We’re not struggling with budgets and data and things like that,” he added. “People outside of education just kind of look at it and say, ‘Well, if they had more of a business mind, things would go better.’ And that’s just not true.”

The state education department selected Marian over seven other applications, which came from Indiana University and six non-university groups. It didn't hurt Marian that its president, Dan Elsener, has a close relationship with Bennett as well as past experience crafting education reforms in the state Legislature.

“Marian University saw this opportunity and, because of a very streamlined management system, they were able to turn around this program in very short order and already build an enrollment capacity,” Bennett said.
 

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