The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Before he became a Philadelphia public school principal, Ted Domers learned about how other school leaders — from private, public and parochial schools — handled challenges in their halls.

“My challenges and their challenges are really different, but in some ways are also really similar," Domers said. "That forces you to look at things in a different way.”

Domers, who was became principal of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science in 2013, found it beneficial to think critically about problems other schools had faced before he recently started leading his own school. He attributes this mindset to his time as a student in the Graduate School of Education's School Leadership program.

In turbulent times for the School District of Philadelphia, Domers is one of an influx of principals in the city. Forty-seven district schools this year and 58 last year had a new principal. Thirty-seven of the 58 last year were first-time principals.

And that's where the School Leadership program comes in. The School Leadership program is a masters course with tracks for study of independent or public schools. The public school option offers Pennsylvania principal certification.

What stood out to two of the programs' recent alumni was the hands-on approach the program takes.

Students in the principal certification program shadow a principal for over 360 hours in a school internship. Students can do their internship in schools they already teach in or in another school, like  Elizabeth Fernandez-Viña, who interned at Northeast High School where she had been hired to be a teacher leader after completing the program.

“It wasn’t isolated theory — we’re really experiencing what we’re learning,” Domers said.

As part of GSE's program, students studying both independent and public school models worked together on assignments which exposed them to new challenges. “Its just about seeing different perspectives and learning from them to see what you can apply to your experience,” said Fernandez-Viña, who is now assistant principal of the  Universal Audenried Charter School.

School leaders need to be able to work collaboratively in order to bring a team of teachers together, Director Earl Ball said. “One really simple way to look at it is that principals are leading and guiding the adults while the teachers are guiding the students,” he said.

The program's co-director, Priscilla Dawson, thinks one of the major skills that principals need different from teachers is the ability to communicate well.

“You need to be able to facilitate and mediate adults and that’s a little bit different than with children,” she said. “And not only speaking, but being a good listener.”

As an 11-month program, it can be a challenging year for students. “Is it tough? Absolutely.“ Dawson said. “We tend to get really dedicated people who want the challenge.”

That’s exactly what attracted Domers, who did the program while working on his education doctorate . Many other students also work full time in another job while completing the program.

“One of the things that principals have to do on a daily basis is juggle,” Dawson said. For students, the program can mimic what it’s like to be a principal. “That year when they are working, going to school, doing an internship — it prepares them in a tangible way for what they’re going to have to do.”

Ball added,  “The program may be hard, but not as hard as being a principal.”

While some students begin the program intending to become a principal, others use it as a chance to develop leadership techniques and use them in other roles like teacher leaders or curriculum heads.

With 37 students in this year’s cohort from the 15 the first year, the program has grown substantially in size and quality from when it started seven years ago, Dawson said. The program has also grown to adapt to changing issues. "As we see the challenges leaders face, we try to address those challenges with expanded areas of study and by bringing in the best people we can find," Dawson said.

What it all comes down to is the goal of creating effective school leaders, Earl and Dawson agreed. “We believe that all schools deserve to have good leaders, doesn’t matter if its public, charter or parochial,” Dawson said.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.