The Bottom Line with Administrator Induction Programs

After two and one-half years of course work and three years of writing, editing, researching, rewriting, editing, and more revisions, I finally completed and defended my doctoral dissertation this past March.  The process was akin to pledging through writing.  And like many fraternity men and sorority women, the day you “earn your letters” was unforgettable.

My dissertation is entitled EVALUATING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE NEW JERSEY LEADERS TO LEADERS INDUCTION PROGRAM: A CASE STUDY.  Long title, but a simple topic… I wanted to know what former NJ L2L program participants thought about the effectiveness of the program.  
Here is the abstract:

Since the publication of the groundbreaking 1983 report A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform, and the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, America’s public schools have undergone dramatic changes.  These significant changes have required the school administrator to be more of an educational leader to students and staff, and parents and community members, while also managing the traditional facets of school leadership – budgets, facilities, and contractual boundaries.    

Modern school leaders must have a firm understanding of data-driven instruction, accountability, student achievement (measured locally, nationally, and internationally), evaluation, and deal with systematic rewards, and penalties.  In response to these impositions, school administrator preparation standards – and induction programs – have been designed by states and districts in an attempt to meet the requirements of the modern administrator.  Yet, there is very little research dedicated to examining the success of such programs.

In January, 2004, The New Jersey State Legislature adopted NJ 6A: 9-3.4, which states that principal licensure candidates were required to enroll in, and successfully complete, a two-year induction program known as New Jersey Leaders to Leaders (NJ L2L).  Since then, hundreds of New Jersey administrators in their first two years of service have completed the NJ L2L program. 

The purpose of this study was to determine if the NJ L2L program has effectively met their stated aims and goals for leaders’ professional growth, as evidenced by knowledge of school leadership skills and practices in the areas of instruction, data collection, budgeting, technology, and facilities, and if the program was effective for NJ L2L residents. This study surveyed 300 former NJ L2L residents using a Likert-style survey.

I’ll spare you the esoteric details of the body of the study and offer you this from the final chapter:

The NJ L2L is an ambitious undertaking; the program is charged with ensuring that every newly appointed public school building-level administrator in the state of New Jersey enroll in this program, be assigned a mentor, and then complete eight explorations and an action-research project.  Undoubtedly, some aspects of the program will receive more attention than others, depending upon the needs of the assigned peer group that each mentor must oversee.  But it is also evident, as illustrated through the comments offered in my study, that the mentor is the key to the residents’ perceived efficacy of the program.  

And that’s one of the two big takeaways from my study – mentors make the difference.  The data provided by those who took part in my survey indicated two things:

  1. If the mentor they were assigned by the NJPSA was in regular contact and established quality relationships with the administrator, then the program was rated as more effective.
  2. If the assigned mentor was not a good communicator or was not very “present”, then the program was rated as being ineffective.
It’s not rocket science… in fact, as many seasoned administrators wil tell you, the whole “business” of education is about relationships.  Being able to build and maintain honest and healthy relationships between parents, faculty, students, local community members, and amongst district administrators is the key characteristic of any successful administrator.  Without positive relationships, no initiative, no program, no curricular change, and no progress can be made.
The other takeaway from my study is the need for the NJ L2L program to become more focused on providing new administrators with a reason to buy in to the program.  As I state in my study,

The NJPSA and FEA must also begin to examine the plausibility of the program; nearly 48% of the former residents found the program to be of little benefit.  The NJ L2L costs an individual, or a school district, over $3,000 over a two-year induction process.  This is a costly burden to residents and districts.  Thus, the NJPSA and FEA must determine what elements of the NJ L2L program are repetitive of administrator preservice programs and seek to enhance or eliminate these features, in an effort to bring efficacy to the program.  The reputation of the NJ L2L program depends on this.

Many of the survey respondents provided comments like;

“This was also another very big financial commitment after just paying approximately $80,000 to complete my doctoral program”  

“I found the program to be no help to me!  It is another way to raise funds”  

“I found this program to amount to a lot of extra work.  The first two years of administration are the hardest, and completing extra tasks did not ease the transition.  There is no replacement for on-site learning, and this program came across as more burdensome than productive”  

“I was disappointed in the L2L program.  While my participation in the program required me to assess my school based on the categories in our survey, I feel that my growth as a Principal came from my day to day experiences not the questions or activities I was required to complete as part of the program”  

“I felt the program was too time consuming and costly for what I actually got out of it.  Every school district has a different dynamic and I feel the time spent was not productive”  

“Graduate work at Rutgers GSE prepared me for the Principalship.  The L2L program was a waste of time”  “The program was a total waste of time.  While my mentor was a good guy and worked well with me.  Two years is overkill.   The mentors know nothing about your district or school responsibilities compared to others.  It is clearly a money grab by NJPS and retired supervisors.  That we pay for mentorship is an outrage! Waste of time!!  If you need this program you are not administrator material!”  

So, in my humble estimation, the NJPSA and the NJ L2L program leadership has some work to do.  The program was extremely beneficial to me.  But then again, I had a terrific mentor… built good relationships with my peers in the program… and that made all the difference.  Doesn’t it always?  Still, I do not want to see the program fail.  It is very comprehensive and very well designed.  I hope to make my contribution by someday mentoring new administrators.

Quality administration begins with building honest and forthright relationships.  Talk with your staff – not to them.  Talk with your parents – not at them.  Talk with your students – don’t simply impose on them.  And for administrators who want to mentor younger newbies, please take your role seriously.  A new administrator’s total view on the profession depends upon what you do with them.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

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