Published on January 23, 2014 by Dr. Peggy Connell  

A group of school superintendents met recently at Samford University to learn more about a new initiative that will address the changing dynamics for middle grades' education.

A new Middle Grades Leadership Academy has been established through a partnership between Samford and the Alabama State Board of Education to collaboratively design professional development for middle grade leaders that will positively influence students' academic achievement.

Jeanie Box, dean of the Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education, and Peggy Connell, assistant professor in the educational leadership department and retired superintendent, are heading the project along with Tommy Bice, Alabama state superintendent of education, and Yvette Richardson, Alabama state board of education member.

 "We wanted to partner with an entity that could provide the kind of leadership we need to form this type of development model," Richardson said. "Samford is the ideal choice to help us design, implement and evaluate this enterprise that will improve middle grades' student achievement throughout the state."

Current research indicates many students in middle grades (6th-8th) do not perform at their highest academic levels, while research demonstrates a strong, positive correlation in student achievement and strong principal leadership, Box noted. Effective principals create school climates in which student achievement improves.

The MGLA draws from a national team of experts to equip educational leaders with the knowledge, skills and strategies to activate students' interest and desire to learn, Box explained. Educational leaders in the program will develop skills to motivate teachers in their schools and to provide the necessary supports for increased effectiveness and continually improving processes.

"We are very proud to be able to make a significant impact on improving leadership at the middle school level," Box said. "This is such an important time of development in the lives of adolescents and requires strong leadership to provide positive influence for students' academic and social development."

The MGLA will support participating school leaders through a three-year cycle of work that expands each year. When fully implemented, the leadership processes, strategies, and practices will build leadership teams' capacity to create a culture of learning and continuous improvement. A culture grounded in collegiality and collective expertise will embed and sustain innovative leadership practices and will support the design of profound learning experiences that influence student performance.

During the first execution of the pilot program, an intense evaluation component will be accomplished by Zebbra Green, a current Samford doctoral student.

"The Academy is two-fold - it will not only provide educational leaders with a model of critical practices that enhance their leadership skills but also are aligned and supports Alabama's Plan 2020," Bice said.

Superintendents are encouraged to consider applying for the Academy with applications due Jan. 31, Box said. The first training is scheduled for summer 2014.

Middle Grades Leadership Academy

Samford Education

Alabama Department of Education

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.