Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is poised to slash spending on a national principal-recruitment program that was hailed three years ago as an innovative public-private boost to urban schools.
The move to back away from New Leaders for New Schools comes as CMS is facing a spike in retirements, resignations and job changes among its principals -- and as the district launches an even bigger public-private quest to save struggling schools.
Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the school board recently that CMS has spent almost $2 million on the program, which recently shortened its name to New Leaders, and gotten only a handful of principals, a cost of roughly $400,000 each for recruitment and training.
Hattabaugh told the board CMS has five principals trained by New Leaders. The group says there are six.
"We're looking at a business case, not getting enough return on our investment," Hattabaugh said as he proposed cutting $1 million from the CMS for New Leaders next year.
New Leaders officials say CMS isn't giving their program enough time to show how much its recruits can benefit students, but say efforts will continue with private money if CMS pulls out.
"We have some encouraging early indicators here," said Eric Guckian, executive director of the Charlotte office. "We are committed to Charlotte. We do think this is an investment that is worth making in our community."
Guckian says CMS would be the first district to pull out midway through a six-year agreement with the national nonprofit, which was founded in 2000 and works with 12 big-city districts, from San Francisco to New York City. It recruits people with education experience who want to become urban principals, provides training and places them in one-year "residencies" to see if they're cut out for the work.
The partnership with CMS was announced in December 2008, at a news conference attended by such community leaders as Erskine Bowles, who was UNC president at the time. CMS, led by then-Superintendent Peter Gorman, hailed a plan to "recruit, select, train and support more than 50 highly talented and motivated new principals" in the next six years.
MeckEd, a local nonprofit advocacy group, helped recruit such corporate donors as Bank of America, Wachovia Foundation, Duke Energy and Presbyterian Health Care.
The contrast between the celebratory launch and today's controversy illustrates the challenge of sustaining reform efforts through leadership changes and other stumbling blocks.
The initial agreement called for CMS to provide residencies for up to 40 New Leaders recruits through the current school year and up to 56 through 2014. Guckian and Kay Moffett of the national office say New Leaders did not promise to fill all those slots.
New Leaders brought in nine residents the first year, in 2009-10. Three were deemed not to be principal material by CMS and New Leaders, Guckian said.
Two -- Arlene Harris and Paul Barnhardt -- got principal jobs the following year. Their schools showed above-average gains on state test scores in 2010-11, Guckian said, with Harris showing particularly strong results. Billingsville, which has long been one of CMS' lowest-scoring schools, went from a composite pass rate of 36.5 percent before she arrived to 49.6 percent last year.
Now, in the third year of the CMS partnership, four more New Leaders residents have become principals. Seven are assistant principals and one is an academic facilitator, a job that combines teaching and administrative duties.
Leaders, plans shift
In May, Gorman and the school board renewed the agreement with New Leaders. New Leaders chose eight CMS residents for 2011-12, but three decided not to take the posts, Guckian said. He said he believes it's better to move forward with five strong residents than to boost numbers by calling back applicants who didn't make the cut.
New Leaders also selected five CMS teachers for a new "emerging leaders" program designed to prepare them for administrative jobs or to act as leaders if they choose to remain in classrooms, Guckian said.
In the current year, he said, New Leaders in Charlotte has a $1.2 million budget, with CMS paying just under $600,000 and donations covering the rest. CMS also pays residents' salaries and provides office space.
In June, Gorman resigned to take a private-sector job, and a November election changed school board leadership. Guckian said it was late last fall when he heard shrinking federal money for principal and teacher training might endanger the agreement.
At a budget meeting earlier this week, Hattabaugh unveiled a preliminary plan to slice $1 million from New Leaders spending for 2012-13. The plan calls for CMS to pay up to 10 New Leaders residents next year, but the group would have to find another way to pay for its staff and the rest of the program.
"This came as a surprise and is a hardship," Guckian said Friday. If the board approves Hattabaugh's plan, "that would be a heck of a shortfall to fill."
Any attempts to raise new money would come in an intensely competitive atmosphere. A group of philanthropists working with the Foundation for the Carolinas is trying to raise $55 million for Project LIFT, the latest high-profile quest to improve struggling schools. The United Way is also focusing efforts on 13 agencies that boost graduation rates.
Principals still needed
The need for good principals, especially in the most challenging schools, remains urgent.
CMS recently released numbers showing that more than one-third of schools have seen their principals leave the district or take new jobs in CMS during the first half of this school year -- more than in either of the two full academic years before -- with the peak retirement season still to come.
Hattabaugh and Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark say creating a pipeline of new leaders is one of the district's most crucial tasks.
But Hattabaugh told the board he doesn't think New Leaders is the most cost-effective way to find principals. Those who have come through the program are good, he said, but most of the principals CMS has hired came through traditional recruiting and promotion paths. A partnership with Winthrop University has provided more principals than New Leaders has, he added.
Guckian says the principal churn highlights the need for leaders who have a passion for urban schools and are willing to make a six-year commitment. The residency serves as "a yearlong, very intensive job interview," he said.
While it's too early to know how much difference New Leaders has made for CMS students, national research indicates the payoff could be down the road. A long-term study by the nonprofit RAND Corp., commissioned by New Leaders, found that in cities that have long-standing partnerships with New Leaders, schools led by New Leader principals with at least one year of experience in the job showed stronger achievement than those in schools with other principals.
Eric Davis, who was school board chair when CMS renewed its partnership with New Leaders, and Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who took over that post in December, both said Friday they're studying the issue to decide whether they agree with Hattabaugh's recommendation.
Ellis-Stewart said she has met with Guckian and national officers. She said she wants to see whether New Leaders has demonstrated lasting benefits for students.
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/03/02/3063944/charlotte-mecklenburg-schools.html#storylink=cpy