Inside Report: Ascension schools to train new leaders

Ascension Parish school officials are planning a leadership academy they hope will provide a talent pool to fill future administrative openings.

The school district plans to launch a pilot program this month and expand the program in the fall and again in the spring of 2014. The goal, officials said, is to identify talented educators and to develop their leadership skills so they could transition to leadership positions in the school system.

Superintendent Patrice Pujol, who worked her way up from the classroom in Ascension Parish, said the academy not only would identify current teachers who could make good leaders, but also current principals and supervisors who could be on track for an assistant superintendent position.

Pujol said the district had a leadership internship program in the past that focused on procedural issues such as processing discipline referrals and managing transportation, but the new academy will go much deeper.

“While these managerial skills are important, we are looking to build a leadership academy around such things as managing the change process, implementing and sustaining processes and structures for teacher collaboration around student work and student data, implementation of the common core state standards and the accompanying new generation standardized assessments,” she said.

The academy will be run by Jennifer Tuttleton, the district’s director of school improvement, and Steve Westbrook, assistant superintendent of instruction and school turnaround.

Tuttleton said the academy will focus on getting “the most talented people” into the district’s pool of potential applicants for administrative positions.

The program is intended to be comprehensive, providing the district not only with a leadership talent pool but also giving aspiring leaders an opportunity to reach their goals.

The academy begins with an application process in which successful teaching experience is the most-important criterion. District officials plan to recruit certain employees they deem potential leaders, but the process also is open to any teacher who has higher aspirations. The program, however, isn’t for everyone. Pujol said not everyone will be selected, and of those who are selected, some won’t finish the program.

Tuttleton called it a “rigorous process,” while School Board President Troy Gautreau said it’s one “that’s long overdue.”

“This sends a strong message for what exactly it takes to be a leader in Ascension Parish,” Tuttleton said.

Successfully completing the leadership academy, however, won’t guarantee the candidate a future leadership job in the school system, officials said. The leadership academy also won’t prevent out-of-district applicants from landing jobs with the Ascension Parish school system.

Pujol said she doesn’t want to get in a position where she is “settling” for anyone less than the best for leadership positions.

“We have never placed an administrator in a position who didn’t have positive leadership qualities,” she said. “The expectations, however, in our current educational climate are heightened, and we want to make sure that our leaders have all the skills necessary for success.”

The leadership academy isn’t going to change that overnight, she said, but she feels confident that in two years the district will have a strong pool of internal candidates.

The ultimate goal for the academy, Pujol said, is answering one key question: “How do you move adults on campus to make a difference for kids?”

Bret H. McCormick covers government and education at The Advocate’s River Parishes bureau. He can be reached at bmccormick@theadvocate.com.