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Great principals don't just happen. Here's how Arizona is growing them
Posted on December 02, 2020 • Category: Op-Ed
By Fred DuVal, Amanda Burke and Kaitlin Harrier, opinion contributors

Arizona Central

Opinion: With the dramatic disruption brought by COVID-19 to schools and learning, Arizona schools need strong principals now more than ever.

Whether it be business, sports teams, nonprofits or government, institutions of every kind works better with great leadership.

So, too, in our schools.

Research from the Wallace Foundation concludes that principals are the second most important school-level factor associated with student achievement – right after teachers.

Strong principals attract, retain and inspire great teachers, and they set a tone of high expectation that positively impacts every part of a school culture.

With the education landscape rapidly changing, adaptive leadership is essential for good student outcomes. Principals can close digital divides and academic inequities. They can link fragile families with community resources. And with the dramatic disruption brought by COVID-19 to schools and learning, and to the communities of families that schools serve, leadership has mattered more now than ever.

Academy trains many. But we need more

Arizona has earned its place as one of the most innovative school environments in the country, and success in any delivery model – public, private or charter – requires good leadership.

We have developed a nationally recognized pipeline for effective principal training. Our universities offer world-class principal preparation. And in the nonprofit arena, Beat The Odds, a program led by the Center for the Future of Arizona, provides powerful ongoing and embedded professional learning across the state for school and district leaders at every level of experience.

The BTO School Leadership Academy draws on the best leadership training practices from business schools, the military and education to provide research-based executive leadership development. It prepares leaders to serve as strategic thinkers, instructional leaders and creators of a just and caring culture in which all students meet high standards.

The curriculum is the recognized National Institute for School Leadership program.

In its four years in the field, BTO has provided this training to 250 principals. But there are 2,000 schools in Arizona.

Every school deserves a great principal

Every school – and every child – benefits from having a great principal.

That is why Gov. Doug Ducey has allocated $700,000 from the federal CARES Act to grow the academy to serve more schools. And that’s why the Hunt-Kean Institute, a nationally recognized leader in education leadership, has chosen Arizona and BTO to host its principal leadership event here on Dec 2.

This is a good news story and it’s a strong start. But imagine making this training available to every principal in every community. Imagine inspiring every teacher to their best performance every day. Imagine school leadership that inspires every student to achieve fully.

This is work for our state leaders in the coming years.

Successful organizations of every kind invest in leadership training. Whether you align with traditional public schools or charters or both, whether you are a Republican, Democrat or independent, every Arizonan wants great schools, successful children and a talented workforce. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing that is great school principals.

That doesn’t just happen by chance.

And that’s why we are partnered together, the governor, the universities, the Hunt-Kane Institute, and the Beat The Odds School Leadership Academy, to generate more of them.


Fred DuVal is a member of the state Board of Regents, a former senior White House aide and a 2020 Hunt-Kane Fellow. Amanda Burke is managing director of strategic initiatives and impact at the Center of the Future of Arizona. Kaitlin Harrier is education adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey. Reach them at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].