Preparing Tomorrow’s Principals

(Al Ferreira for UConn)

Students in the Administrator Preparation Program attend class at the Stamford Campus. (Al Ferreira for UConn)

Graduates give high grades to the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP), and credit it for giving them the confidence, knowledge, experience, and professional connections they need to achieve their career goals of becoming a principal or other school administrator.

Eighty percent of those who complete the rigorous two-year program give it an ‘A’ for the professional learning, growth, management skills, collaboration tools, and intellectual introspection they received in the classroom, curriculum laboratory, and from mentors during their clinical internships, according to an alumni survey conducted every two years by the Neag School of Education.

Casey Cobb, head of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Neag School and director of the Neag Center for Education Policy Analysis, says the 90-hours-per-semester internship is one of the most valuable aspects of the program for many students. Thanks to a partnership with the Connecticut Association of Schools, each UCAPP participant is matched with an exemplary administrator as a mentor.

(Al Ferreira for UConn)

Michael Nast, clinical supervisor in the Administrator Preparation Program. (Al Ferreira for UConn)

“Our partnership with [the Connecticut Association of Schools] is one of the many strengths of the program,” Cobb says. “Their vast network of schools helps ensure students are matched with the best possible mentor, and also allows us to bring in instructors and speakers with valuable experience – administrators who’ve faced and learned from budget crises, personnel issues, ethical situations, and the many other challenges educational leaders face.

He says even the best classroom instruction can’t fully prepare someone to become a principal or other type of administrator: “Much of the most important learning comes from practical experience, so we work hard to provide students with that essential blend of classroom and clinical learning.”

Ranked as one of the leading educational administrator programs in the U.S., UCAPP earns students a Sixth-Year Diploma, and qualifies them to take the exam for Connecticut state certification as intermediate administrators. By documenting the integrated, problem-based learning they experience, students also create a professional portfolio that shows they’ve achieved what the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education defines as administrative competency, and met the specialized professional association standards of the Educational Leadership Constituent Council. The curriculum also incorporates Connecticut Common Core of Learning requirements.

(Al Ferreira for UConn)

(Al Ferreira for UConn)

“There’s a whole new emphasis on the role of principals, who today are really at the center of leading the many reform efforts under way,” Cobb says. “Having knowledgeable and skilled leaders is more important than ever, and the reality is that there is a shortage of really good principals – principals who know how teaching and learning occur, and who have the ability to inspire and lead. It’s a broader role than many people think.”

As many as 90 students are enrolled in the program at any one time. They are divided into cohorts of about 15 members. Since the majority are also working teachers, cohorts meet not only at UConn’s main campus in Storrs but also at the University’s campuses in Farmington, Stamford, and other locations, for greater convenience.

Courses and seminars range from Contemporary Educational Policy Issues to the Legal Aspects of Education, and Creating and Sustaining a Positive School Climate. These courses are grounded in adult and experiential learning theory, and led by instructors who have worked in schools or as school administrators and are considered experts in their fields.

(Al Ferreira for UConn)

Students in the Administrator Preparation Program attend class at the Stamford Campus. (Al Ferreira for UConn)

The director of the UCAPP program is Diane Ullman, who was an adjunct instructor and superintendent of schools in Simsbury for eight years before joining the Neag School of Education last spring.

Ullman says the wealth of experience that comes from the internship and the program’s outstanding instructors give UCAPP students an edge. “Our students are taught by some of the best practitioners in the state, all of whom are committed to not just sharing knowledge, but inspiring vision and purpose.”

Also new to the program are assistant professors Richard Gonzales, a former elementary teacher and principal in Texas and Colorado, and Sarah Woulfin, whose research focuses on the relationships between educational policy, leadership, and classroom practice. The two bring to the program essential experience working in urban school districts, as well as what Woulfin calls “a shared dedication to developing the best possible educational leaders.”

“There’s so much work to be done in Connecticut to remedy the achievement gap,” Woulfin says, “and it’s exciting to know I’m helping create leaders who will help facilitate some of the much-needed change to the way we teach and help all students succeed. Today’s educational leaders need to think critically and creatively, and that’s what we help them achieve.”

The deadline to apply for the program is March 1.