Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2010-06-04

Newly implemented reforms that seek to raise the quality of public school leaders put Alabama in good light, state educators, Gov. Bob Riley and others were told at a news conference at Samford University Thursday, June 3.

“With what you have accomplished, you have shifted by 180 degrees what you expect of principals and school leadership,” said Gene Bottoms, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), which studied the recommendations and implementation of reforms spearheaded by the Governor’s Congress on School Leadership in Alabama.

“You have done this more completely than any other state,” said Dr. Bottoms, whose SREB tracks the implementation of leadership reforms in 16 states.

The Governor’s Congress was established by Gov. Riley in 2004 to ensure that Alabama’s K-12 public school principals are instructional leaders, not just school administrators.

The Congress drafted the Alabama Instructional Leadership Standards, which emphasize instructional leadership and informed the redesign of all 13 university teacher preparation programs in the state.

Samford’s Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education and the schools of education at University of South Alabama and Auburn University piloted the new instructional program, which involved a re-design of how they train leaders for schools.

Components include partnering with area school districts, as Samford did with nearby Homewood school system, and semester-long residency programs in which graduate students get practical leadership experience in different school settings.

Alabama State Superintendent of Education Joseph B. Morton noted the challenges that were involved in the new concept, beginning with getting the approval of the State Department of Education.

“But what we have now sets Alabama apart and puts it  on the road to excellence with a new model,” he said, referring to educators who complete the new curricula because they want to be principals and not just earn advanced degrees to achieve higher salaries.

“Alabama is a pace setter,” noted Riley, who said that when he goes into a school he can quickly tell what type of leadership it has. In good schools, he said, “There is a passion, and it starts with the principal.” 

He stressed that in this campaign season, voters must be very specific with candidates about their commitment to education. “Supporting programs such as the leadership initiative will allow Alabama to be a national leader,” said Riley.

The state is a leader in the national reading initiative, distance learning and pre-K  programs, he said. “The other piece that is essential is leadership,” said Riley, adding that to combine it all will build a greater Alabama.

The news conference included presentations by graduates of the Samford, USA and Auburn education schools.

The practical format of the curriculum, which allows students to put knowledge into action and gain confidence as leaders, is beneficial, said Tyler Burgess, who earned a master’s degree in instructional leadership at Samford in 2008 and  is assistant principal at Homewood High School.

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.