With more than 1.1 million students, 84,000 educators, and 1,400 campuses in the Greater Houston area, the need for effective campus leadership in education is increasingly essential to deliver the promise of public education. The eight-county region surrounding the city of Houston is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts in terms of both physical size and population. With Rice University in the center of such a vibrant, densely populated area, we asked ourselves, “How can we help principals succeed in these leadership and managerial positions?”
The Houston region is in the midst of a dramatic demographic shift from biracial, predominantly Anglo population to majority-minority. Soon the Hispanic community will be the majority. Immigration, both from across the nation and internationally, drives growth. The complexity facing public schools comes not only from an increase in the number of languages represented in our youth but also an increase of economically disadvantaged students, state mandates and teacher turnover. Yet, principal preparation often remains narrowly focused on curriculum and instruction, leaving school principals with an insufficient set of tools. “I don’t feel like [my Masters of Education degree] prepared me for this job, except that I got my certification,” says one principal.
Development of Opportunities
Founded in 1978, Rice Executive Education has grown by 300 percent over the last three or four years, says Jonathan Harvey, executive director of Executive Education at Rice. Part of the reason for the growth is the uplift in the economy, Harvey says. Houston, energy capital of the world and second only to New York City in the number of publicly traded companies headquartered here, has been booming while other major cities stagnated. And part of the reason is that companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, are looking at a "demographic hole" between retiring executives and younger talent in a position to take their place, says Harvey.
"Companies are concerned that they are going to be challenged to retain top talent," he says. "The company has to plan for the future. And one way for a company to do that is the development of opportunities.
"REEP changed my perspective about who I am in the principal role. I truly see myself as the CEO – instead of the one who actually needed to DO everything. I look at and solve problems completely differently – with a more global approach, rather than just a quick solution."
The Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Programme (REEP)
Together with Houston Endowment and the Jones Graduate School of Business, the REEP team developed curriculum and experiences to equip school principals with the ability to lead a school with the CEO mind-set. REEP graduates create the conditions for success in their schools by setting priorities, leveraging culture, engaging stakeholders and adapting to challenges. The overall programme intent is to develop change agents with the mind-set and capacity to maximize the organizational performance of their school. By presenting coursework, making connections to their context and providing opportunities for application, the REEP programme enables public school leaders to better manage the complexity of school operations, staff development, budgeting and more to ultimately improve student achievement.
Beyond Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
Blending a mix of national education practitioners, researcher and policy makers with the Jones Graduate School of Business faculty, REEP offers a unique experience to both aspiring and current principals. The school leaders connect the functional knowledge of finance, marketing, leadership and operations with sound instructional pedagogy to create learning organizations at their schools. Feedback from graduates shows promising results. One school leader at a charter school repositioned how their school was viewed in the neighbourhood and was able to more effectively “sell” their offering to families because of the marketing class”. Other leaders have repurposed their budgets and job responsibilities to optimize the use of their teams and still provide needed additional resources like extra-curricular activities. Classes in strategy help principals look beyond the school walls and see [themselves] and the school impacting their communities, the broader school district, and the city. Educators can choose from the MBA for Professionals track or the Executive Education Business Fellowship track to further their education and leadership capacity.
By the eighth REEP cohort, about 160 principals will serve 160,000 students. This is an investment of about $100 per student – or the cost of one textbook or calculator. We estimate that the investment falls to nearly $50 per student as a new class of students is added yearly to each school and exposed to the skills and talents of these principals.
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