George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Academy for Urban School Leadership: Seasoned Professionals Bring a Passion for Reform

The best teachers for the toughest schools.
November 19, 2007
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Courtesy of Academy for Urban School Leadership

As in many urbandistricts, theChicago PublicSchools (CPS) confrontsa shortageof dedicated, top-notchteachers for itshigh-poverty sites.Staffing requires triageeach fall.

One remedy is theAcademy for UrbanSchool Leadership, whichprepares roughly fifty new teachersa year expressly for the rigors andrewards found in the city's mostdeprived schools. The program,loosely modeled after a medicalresidency, gives novices two monthsof courses followed by a full-yearimmersion in one of the AUSL's fourteacher-training academies (three elementaryschools and a high school, all inimpoverished neighborhoods). There, theteachers absorb best practices from mentoringeducators and work with students.

"It's like a guided apprenticeship," explainsexecutive director Donald Feinstein.Residents earn a $32,000 stipend for theirMonday-through-Thursday classroom assistance.On Fridays, they take courses incurriculum development, lesson planning,classroom management, culturalcompetence, and more. They graduatewith a master's degree -- inteaching from National-LouisUniversity or instructionalleadership from theUniversity of Illinoisat Chicago -- andthe obligationto workanother fiveyears in anunderperforming CPSlocation.

Support for these recruitscontinues long past graduation.For two years, the AUSLprovides graduates with fieldcoaches who help them improvetheir practice.

This type of nurturing sets theAUSL apart from other teacher-trainingacademies and "links teacherpreparation to service in the mostdisadvantaged schools," says MartinJ. Koldyke, a retired venture capitalistwho founded the nonprofit organizationin partnership with the CPS in 2001.The school district and AUSL share theprogram costs, raising money from corporationsand other donors.

Among thethree teacher-training programs in thecountry that recruit mid-career professionalsand pay stipends, Chicago's pays themost. (The Boston Teacher Residency andColorado's Boettcher Teachers Program arethe other two.)

At the AUSL's teacher-training academies,where children are all at poverty leveland almost entirely of color, the report cardis promising: Students' reading, math, andscience scores are steadily rising.

Although the AUSL does recruit somerecent college graduates, most participantsare seasoned professionals making a careerchange. They bring real-world experience inaccounting and other businesses, nonprofitorganizations, the military, and the legal profession.They also bring maturity: The averageage among current residents is twenty-nine.Perhaps most importantly, they bring a passionfor reform. "We have a pipeline of humancapital wanting to teach in schools with a freshstart," Feinstein says.

Since its inception, the AUSL has produced153 teachers. More than 90 percent of themstill work in the Chicago schools, some in thetwo NCLB Turnaround Schools the AUSLalso runs. One such graduate is AndreCowling, who's completing the final yearof his contract as the new principal at theHarvard School of Excellence, one of theTurnaround Schools.

Cowling, forty-three,left a $130,000-a-year supervisoryjob to fulfill his childhood dream ofleading a school. "If I'm working eightto twelve hours a day, I want to behappy," Cowling says. "If I canmake a difference in the life ofa child, that's it."

Vital Stats

  • Location: Chicago
  • Degree conferred: Master's
  • Annual graduating class: 45-50
  • Time in the field: 1 year
  • Highlights:
    • Yearlong residency in dedicated training academies
    • $32,000 salary for residents
    • Postgraduate field coaching
Carol Guensburg is a freelance journalist and former founding director of the Journalism Fellowships in Child and Family Policy. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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