Teach for America to help Marian University recruit principals

Teach for America will lend national recruiting support to a principal academy at Marian University in a joint effort to get more school leaders trained to work in the state’s most challenging schools.

Marian, a small Catholic university on Cold Spring Road at West 30th Street, aims to use the help of New York-based Teach for America and a $20 million fundraising drive to build a school leader training program ranked among the 10 best in the nation.

elsener-dan-mug Elsener

Both Marian and Teach for America say not enough people are prepared to lead schools in Indianapolis and around the state in areas of low income, high crime and broken homes.

“We’ve got to have some Don Quixotes. They’ve got to be willing to go into hell for a heavenly cause,” said Marian President Dan Elsener, who is also a member of the State Board of Education.

That observation isn’t new for either organization. In 2009, both created leadership training programs designed to prepare principals and deans for difficult schools.

Marian created the Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership and has enrolled 85 educators in three years, almost all from Indiana. But that has not met Marian’s initial goal of training 100 new school leaders every year.

Teach for America created the Indianapolis Principal Fellowship. It has sent 13 teachers trained by Teach for America to an intensive summer program at Columbia University, then brought them back to Indianapolis to lead schools here.

“That alone is not helping to meet the demand,” said Pat O’Donnell, director of the Indianapolis office of Teach for America. “So we’ve been thinking about, ‘What more could we be doing?’”

So Teach for America now will spread the word about Marian’s program among its entire base of 28,000 alumni. The organization, which hires college graduates to teach in urban or rural schools, already works with Marian to run its five-week, summer training courses to ready those college students to teach in Indianapolis schools.

Many education professionals are critical of Teach for America’s scaled-down training and of the high rate at which its members leave the teaching profession after their initial two-year commitment.

But Teach for America has been able to produce some data showing its teachers help students boost their standardized test scores faster than traditionally trained teachers.

And now that new state laws require all school principals to be evaluated and paid in part based on student test scores, more school districts are interested in hiring leaders who have experience getting struggling students to boost their scores.

o'donnell O'Donnell

Meanwhile, the number of charter schools is proliferating in Indianapolis, creating additional demand for school leaders.

“They’re attracted to those results,” O’Donnell said. “They haven’t seen a really robust pool of people that are ready to take on school leadership roles who have those results.”

Marian’s school leadership program involves two years of classes during summers, evenings and weekends, followed by two years of mentoring for its graduates once they are in school leadership positions. Marian’s program costs $15,000 to $20,000 per student.

The university has raised $1 million, and plans to raise at least $6 million more over the next year, to fund its growing school leadership academy in two key ways.

First, it plans to offer scholarships for the best and the brightest candidates from out of state that it and Teach for America can attract.

Second, Marian intends to hire four new full-time education professors by next school year to teach principals in statistical analysis, as well as reading and math instructional techniques. It will also hire one person focused on Catholic school leadership.

After next year, Marian wants to raise an additional $10 million to $15 million to hire even more faculty to create a doctoral program in leadership, with the first concentration in education. Marian plans to hire even more faculty to do research on education, both studying Indiana schools and then using their findings to help improve instruction in all schools.

“You can’t just say top 10,” Elsener said, “you’ve got to fund it top 10.”

Elsener, a former executive director of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation in Indianapolis, has demonstrated an ability to raise large sums for Marian’s programs since joining the institution in 2001.

His biggest coup was securing a $48 million donation from AIT Laboratories founder and CEO Michael Evans. Marian is in the process of building the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences. It will house the university’s School of Nursing and the new College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is scheduled to open next year.•

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