Buzz Thomas, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership, served as interim superintendent for Knox County Schools for a year, bridging between Dr. Jim McIntyre’s resignation and the school board’s selection of Bob Thomas (no relation) as permanent superintendent.
We asked him about the Leadership Academy at UT, and his comments came after publication of our stories.
He offered both background and observations, suggesting that we talk with alumni of the Leadership Academy for a first-hand account of the training program. The school board is set to discuss the future of the Leadership Academy at its Dec. 4 and 6 meetings.
Background: It’s been about nine years since a number of us (including then-Superintendent McIntyre) jumped on an airplane with then-Mayor Bill Haslam and went around the country looking at some of the more successful principal preparation programs.
The Finns, Germans, Japanese and Koreans were kicking our butts when it came to education, and we knew the old model of learning to become a principal by sitting in a college classroom listening to professors talk about what it’s like to be a principal wasn’t getting the job done. The best programs were training principals the way we train doctors. They were highly selective on the front end, clinically based (i.e. the principal candidate spends most of her time working in a school rather than sitting in a classroom) and had successful practitioners teaching, coaching and mentoring the candidates alongside their professors.
That’s the kind of program that was built at UT. You can tinker with the curriculum and the staff, but the basic elements of the program are the gold standard for how to train high quality principals.
Observations: Eliminating disparities based on race is one of the district’s three top priorities, and the Leadership Academy is where we get 75 percent of our black administrators. Four of the current class of 10 are African-American. That’s important in a district where only one out of every 20 employees is black.
KCS controls the selection process of these candidates. Bob (Thomas) and I chose every one of this year’s class. Jim McIntyre was sitting in the room, but on every selection, he deferred to Bob and me.
UT donates up to 10 master’s level scholarships to us each year. No other school district in the state gets that.
Some of the best principals we have came out of the academy: Tanna Nicely, Shay Siler, Joe Cameron, Rob Speas, Ryan Siebe, Jessica Holman, Renee Kelly, Nathan Langlois, Michelle Wolfenbarger, Katie Lutton, Brad Corum … The list is LONG.