Partnerships Are Key to Principal Leadership Training Programs

By Penelope L. Peterson
Eleanor R. Baldwin Professor
Dean of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy


According to a National Conference of State Legislatures (NSCL) report, principals are key — second only to teachers — to improving schools and raising student achievement. Keeping great principals is key to great schools.

But too many of Chicago’s principals are leaving their schools too soon. Data from The Chicago Public Education Fund show that principal performance peaks around year five, but Chicago loses six out of ten principals before this milestone.

To reverse the trend, the Chicago Principals Fellowship program, a rigorous yearlong executive leadership program designed at Northwestern University, supports and invigorates high-achieving principals. This cutting-edge professional development program relies on partnerships on three different levels:

  • Between principals and teachers: Great leaders attract great teachers – and vice versa. Research shows that high principal turnover often leads to greater teacher turnover, which negatively impacts student achievement and learning. According to an NSCL policy brief, 24 out of 25 teachers say their principal is the number one factor in whether or not they stay at a school. That’s why the program emphasizes distributed leadership, a model that recognizes that leadership involves many stakeholders, including teachers, in addition to the principal. Fellows take courses that emphasize distributed leadership like “The Leader as Coach,” “Understanding and Building School Culture,” or “The Practice of Leading and Managing Teaching in Educational Organizations”.
  • Within one university: Northwestern faculty members from two Schools – the School of Education and Social Policy and the Kellogg School of Management—designed the program. Both are top-ranked in their respective fields of education and business. The faculty brings different but complementary expertise to the development and implementation of this Fellows program.
  • Between a university, a school district and funders: Northwestern has a long history of partnerships with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). By one estimate, Northwestern has directly or indirectly impacted the education of some 30,000 CPS students through its programs. This three-year initiative is supported by The Chicago Public Education Fund and the Crown Family.


Unlike other principal training programs, we designed the Chicago Principals Fellowship to challenge and invigorate already high-achieving principals.

The diverse strengths of school leaders and their staff members can serve as an important resource to improve education whether within classrooms, within schools, within a district, or within a partnership like this one. We look forward to beginning another school year and to collaborating with our Kellogg colleagues and another group of talented principals as we work together to improve education in Chicago.

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