The city’s school district has partnered with Seton Hall University to launch what is being described as an innovative leadership training program to prepare 45 school leaders to tackle the persistent problem of under-performance in many district schools.
Funded by a $1.5 million federal grant issued through the Turnaround School Leaders Program, the initiative will utilize interactive, web-based video simulations to immerse current and aspiring education leaders in the real challenges administrators face on a daily basis in under performing schools.
Trainees will make live decisions as the scenarios unfold in the simulations and learn about the consequences of their actions.
“The district is creating a web-enabled virtual school that requires aspiring principals to confront problems, make choices and then – critically – see the consequences of their actions,” said state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans in a press release issued on Wednesday morning.
Evans said the district is one of a small number of school systems around the United States to receive funding to run such a program. The city’s school district is the sole recipient of the grant in New Jersey – out of 12 issued nationally.
“In collaboration with Seton Hall University and Interactive, Inc., our district will develop what we hope will become a national model for the development of turnaround school leaders,” said Evans.
The two phase program will begin its first phase by connecting school leadership professors Michael Osnato, Jan Furman, Daniel Gutmore, and adjunct Loretta Pohill of the South Orange-based university to work directly with city’s school leaders to equip them with techniques and tools to better their schools.
“For example, we teach them how to do walk-throughs, which is akin to a doctor doing daily rounds in the hospital,” said Osnato, chair of university’s education leadership management program. “We show them how to visit classrooms regularly, two or three times a week and look for certain ways that they can help the teachers in a positive, collaborative way.”
Osnato said the short but more frequent visits will serve as a different form of support for building teachers.
The program’s second phase will utilize interactive simulations. “Simulations are widely used for training in medicine and the military,” said Dale Mann, professor emeritus at Columbia University and managing director of Interactive, Inc. Mann’s company will serve as the district’s technology partner in creating the simulations.
The program — aimed to train and provide steady leadership in underperforming schools — will prepare 15 leaders per year until reaching 45 in its third year. Even after the three-year period ends the district will continue to use the simulations to train future leaders in turnaround techniques.
“We expect this to be a realistic and highly effective training tool in difficult schools where children deserve a chance,” said Osnato.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Seton Hall University was located in West Orange, it is in fact located in South Orange.