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School district one of eight in nation to receive Principal Pipeline grant for equity-driven staffing effort

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jason Lee Elementary School Principal Alma Velazquez chats with 1st grader Junayd Abdilatif on the first day of hybrid learning in March 2021. Portland Public Schools was awarded $8.2 million to help fund a Principal Pipeline leadership program that aims to diversify principal staffing in urban school districts.Portland Public Schools has received a grant of $8.2 million to reshape and refocus its school leadership.

The district announced Wednesday, Oct. 6 that it was one of eight school districts across the country to be provided with an $8.2 million, five-year grant from the Wallace Foundation, to help build an "equity-centered principal pipeline."

The funding, which aims to help school districts in urban areas diversify their staffing, among other initiatives, will be used to advance PPS's racial equity and social justice priorities.

"It is important that every student has the opportunity to observe school leaders that are representative of our diverse community. Our students of color in particular benefit when they see themselves reflected in school leaders, they see possibility, opportunity and belonging," said PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero. "This initiative will allow the district to both train and recruit more culturally and linguistically diverse principals and help ensure that every PPS school is equipped with leaders who have the skills and preparation needed to put our equity commitments into action. Adding more diverse voices and lived experiences to the pool of PPS principals will benefit the entire PPS community."

Shawn Bird, deputy superintendent of PPS, said much of the funding will go toward recruiting and professional development of current principals and vice principals, as well development of staffers already working for the district who could advance to leadership positions.

"Representation matters and kids need to see leaders who look like them," Bird told Pamplin Media Group Wednesday. "It's about recruitment and retention, but also the full life cycle of the employee."

Retention could go a long way for PPS, which is used to an annual principal shuffle that sees several schools change leadership each year, typically with lateral moves. As reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive that process has already happened just over a month into the new school year, with four schools losing their principals.

A 2019 audit of the Oregon Department of Education and PPS by the Oregon Secretary of State cited "high staff turnover and lower teacher experience" as systemic obstacles to student performance, particularly at high-poverty schools.

The Wallace Foundation outlines a seven-part comprehensive, aligned principal pipeline. It includes leadership standards; principal preparation programs; recruitment, hiring and placement; support and evaluation; a principal supervisor role; leader tracking; and systems to sustain the work.

"An often-missing ingredient in improving public K-12 education is sound school leadership, cited in research as second only to teaching in school influences on student success," the Wallace Foundation notes in its school leadership grant overview.

To carry out the work over the next five years, PPS will partner up with Portland State University, Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the Oregon Educator Advancement Council and local community partners.

"The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) has redesigned the Oregon School Leadership Standards to emphasize the responsibility of principals to champion equitable learning environments and student success in their schools," said Anthony Rosilez, executive director of TSPC. "Participation in this nationally recognized initiative will greatly inform the creation of a comprehensive framework for the preparation of school leaders throughout the entire state of Oregon."

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