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Unleashing Leadership in Camden

February 27, 2014

Camden is a city on the rise. The small New Jersey city has struggled with poverty, security concerns and inadequate school performance for some years, but is currently undertaking massive efforts to improve opportunities for its residents—particularly its young residents. Camden City School District’s road to improved student outcomes is long, and a key piece of that effort is cultivating and supporting the talent already living and working in Camden.

We’re inspired to lend our support by partnering with the district on a new program to support talented school leaders (and school-leaders-to-be). Funded by a $5 million federal School Leadership Program grant, the Camden Pathway to Leadership in Urban Schools (CamdenPLUS) is helping schools find and cultivate talented leaders who can support teachers and help more students learn.

Last spring, we started our first-ever school leader residency and training program, PhillyPLUS. Crossing the Delaware to launch CamdenPLUS was a pretty obvious—and exciting—decision. If Camden’s schools are to improve, Camden’s best and brightest must be at the center of that effort.

CamdenPLUS is designed to help schools find talented leaders who can support teachers and ensure students graduate ready for college or a job. Our premise is this: Those powerful leaders are already in the neighborhood, and perhaps even already working in the school system. We provide a rigorous, supportive alternative route to train those new leaders quickly.

Research shows that strong instructional leadership is key to building great teams of teachers, and that principals play a major role in retaining their high-performing teachers, especially in low-performing schools. So our work is twofold: We want to help districts cultivate promising new leaders who are prepared to step up as principals and vice principals, and also ensure that current administrators improve their capacity as instructional leaders.

CamdenPLUS Residents, like their counterparts in our PhillyPLUS program, will be trained to lead a culture of high student achievement, including observation and feedback, data-driven instruction and strategic planning and implementation. They will participate in an intensive summer institute that will prepare them for a hands-on residency in a Camden school, throughout which they will receive biweekly individual coaching and monthly professional development sessions. Furthermore, we will provide coaching to our Residents during their first year out of the program to support them in the transition into full-time school leadership. Only Residents who successfully complete the program will be recommended for leadership positions in Camden schools. 

CamdenPLUS will also provide ongoing professional development to current principals and vice principals to increase the instructional leadership capacity of the leaders already working in the district. This year, we’re focusing on skills critical to helping teachers do their best work, through improving the observation and feedback cycle for teacher evaluations. That means articulating a high, shared standard for what great teaching looks like, as well as the strategies principals need to support all teachers to get there.

The road ahead won’t be easy—there are sure to be challenges ahead. But it’s exciting to be one of many initiatives under Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s “Camden Commitment” plan. And I’m confident that our CamdenPLUS Residents will be eager to meet those challenges and carry out that commitment.

I’m energized by the prospect of tapping the talents of leaders and would-be leaders throughout Camden to make a difference at city schools. Great school leaders can make a huge difference in the quality of instruction and in the quality of life in the city as a whole. And great schools have the power to uplift communities looking for positive change.

 

Addendum: After publication of this post, CamdenPLUS was approved as a Principal Preparation Program by the New Jersey Department of Education. With this approval, CamdenPLUS Residents will be able to complete the 30 credit hours and 300 internship hours required for the New Jersey Certificate of Eligibility through CamdenPLUS.