In the late 1980s, a team of talented, dedicated educators designed an innovative leadership preparation program that integrated graduate coursework with intensive field experiences.

Now in its 25th year, the Danforth Educational Leadership program has prepared over 550 graduates to serve in key roles as instructional coaches, academic deans, assistant principals, principals, central office directors and superintendents throughout Puget Sound, the state of Washington, and the nation. In keeping with its longstanding tradition of excellence, the Danforth program continues to innovate the field of leadership preparation through launching a performance guarantee aligned to the core competencies of effective building-level leaders.

On October 29 and 30, 2012, the University of Washington College of Education and the Puget Sound Educational Service District co-sponsored a convening of area superintendents and principals and national thought leaders to identify the core competencies principals must know and be able to do in order to deliver on the promise of equity for all students.

Over the next several months, incoming Danforth director, Ann O’Doherty, will work with a newly formed Danforth Curriculum Council to align coursework and internship learning experiences with exit performance measures. Through a partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), Danforth graduates will enter their new roles with a performance guarantee.

Delivering a Performance Guarantee

The convening offered an opportunity to learn from area and national leaders. During our first evening together, Gary Kipp, executive director of AWSP shared the status of Washington’s principal performance evaluations. The next morning, several of our national thought leaders served on a panel to introduce their organization’s approach to build a strong bench through the intentional development of a leadership pipeline.

Our participants met in table groups to discuss research on competencies and identify the most critical knowledge and skills needed by school leaders to deliver on the promise of equity. We employed an affinity process to look for patterns and distilled the six selected core competencies (inset p. 3). A competency was assigned to each table group to draft a working definition and begin describing exit-level performance measures.

Core Competencies

  • Shaping & Attaining a Vision
  • Improving Instructional Quality through Collaborative Professional Practice
  • Engaging Families and Communities
  • Marshaling Resources
  • Navigating System-wide Data Use
  • Creating Systems of Accountability & Support

Now that the competencies have been identified, we are forming the Danforth Curriculum Council composed of area educational leaders. Through the Curriculum Council, we will tap the expertise of practicing district-level and school-level leaders and university faculty to further define each core competency and build associated performance measures and exit standards. Next, we will backward design the curriculum so that students enrolled in the Danforth program will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve exit-level performance.

The first competency to be supported by the performance guarantee will be Improving Instructional Quality through Collaborative Professional Practice.
Danforth students currently complete a 1000-hour internship with 400 documented hours of instructional leadership. Students also conduct an ethnographic study of an intern site and engage in an inquiry project to explore a student problem of learning. Building on these exemplary experiences, future Danforth students will further refine their leadership development through additional requirements aligned with building capacity for instructional improvement.

These learning experiences may include leading learning walks, collaboratively analyzing student work, facilitating teams of teachers to develop common assessments and other targeted instructional leadership moves recommended by members of the Curriculum Council.

In preparation for setting performance expectations for our graduates, we are gathering actual performance measures for principal effectiveness from area school districts as well as examining the state’s requirements for Professional Certification.
The performance guarantee on the first competency will commence next year with graduates from the Danforth 26 cohort. We will post documents for comment at our website and welcome your input.

Our Vision of Partnerships

Dean Tom Stritikus has a vision for education, “I believe in partnerships with area schools and districts. Our college of education faculty conduct cutting edge research in partnership with our colleagues in the field. They then share this knowledge to improve learning in tangible ways. We develop strong teachers and teacher leaders and prepare school-level and district-level leaders through Danforth and Leadership for Learning. Our graduates serve the state and the nation in just about every role there is in education from teachers through principals and superintendents. Our focus for the future is building a strong pipeline with area districts – helping to recruit and prepare teachers, teacher leaders, school-level and district-level leaders prepared to close and eliminate achievement gaps. Developing effective school level leaders benefits the students, staffs and families. We are working with area districts to define partner roles and commitments to sustain effective educators in classrooms, schools and districts.