Creating an equitable pathway for Philadelphia's aspiring school principals

February 18, 2022
A student participating in a class discussion.

Penn GSE, the School District of Philadelphia, and Temple University are launching a new leadership program designed to prepare School District of Philadelphia (SDP) employees to become school principals and education leaders.

Beginning with the first cohort of students in summer 2022, the Pathway to Leadership Principal Preparation Program is geared not only toward developing and preparing the next generation of education leaders, but also in diversifying that leadership to better serve the increasingly diverse populations in Philadelphia schools.

“A primary goal of the Pathway to Leadership Program is leveraging internal talent within the School District of Philadelphia while creating an equitable pathway for future school leaders,” says Jessica Richard, Associate Director of Penn GSE’s School Leadership Program. “We recognize the importance of diversifying school leadership, and we are committed to preparing culturally responsive leaders that more closely mirror the demographics of the schools and communities they serve.”

While the program is open to those from all backgrounds, its primary goal is to develop dedicated educational leaders among the Black, Latinx, and Asian populations.

“Our office always says we believe the most important leaders in this city are the leaders of our schools, and those leaders should be well trained, well supported, and reflective of the student body,” says Lauren Miller, senior project manager with the SDP’s Office of Leadership Development. “We’re very excited to work with Penn to create a more accessible path for leaders of color and anybody who centers equity in their framework.”

By offering a $25,000 scholarship to attend Pathway to Leadership courses at either Penn GSE or Temple, the program aims to level the playing field and offer more equitable access for individuals who want to become culturally responsive school leaders. Students who choose to enroll at Penn will receive an additional $15,000 of support from the University.

“Demonstrating our commitment to remove barriers and enable greater access, this is an incredible opportunity to reach a diverse pool of applicants that otherwise might not have had the chance because of financial barriers,” says Richard.

The program is open to those currently employed within the SDP and committed to serving as an educational leader in the District for at least three years after completing the program.

Penn GSE’s iteration of the 11-month program is executive format, meaning it’s structured for working professionals. Students maintain their full-time roles within their schools while participating. The class meets in person for one full weekend each month, and virtually for one Wednesday each month.

Once enrolled, in addition to their coursework students will be provided with one-on-one mentorship from a principal within the SDP and coaching support from the District’s Office of Leadership Development.

Representing a $3 million investment over the next three years, the Pathway to Leadership Program’s dedication to developing extraordinary talent to serve the Philadelphia community mirrors that of Penn GSE’s School Leadership Program, which Richard notes has 75 alumni working in various leadership capacities within the SDP.

Miller says the program has already seen a steady flow of applications. She added SDP, Penn, and Temple have partnered in multiple information sessions, creating a productive and engaging collaborative space.

According to Richard, this program grew out of two successful pilots, one of which was Penn GSE’s Innovative Principal Residence Program — a year-long 2019 initiative which prepared four SDP teachers to serve as principals for high-needs schools in the District.

“Historically, Penn GSE has a deep commitment to supporting the School District of Philadelphia while researching the distinctive needs of urban education,” says Richard. “This partnership further demonstrates that commitment. Strong educational leaders make an outsized impact on schools. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our School Leadership Program to further its mission of impacting the local school district and preparing a more diverse and equitable group of future school leaders while offering a high-quality preparation program.”

Individuals interested in applying should submit the general online application for Penn GSE School Leadership M.S.Ed. and apply to the Pathway to Leadership Program through the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Leadership Development by March 1.