July 9-22, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 13
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Make the Grade
Ford to spearhead graduate studies
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Apprentice Program
On the set of U.Va.’s ER for medical students
Leaders need to recharge, too
U.Va.’s library on display
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Levy legacy: A U.Va. richer in black culture


Make the Grade
Governor’s charge to school principals and Darden-Curry leadership program
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (center)
Photo by Michael Bailey
Serious about improving the lives of youths in Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner (center) made a trip to the Darden School June 21 to discuss ways to turn around poorly performing public schools.

Staff Report

By Anne Bromley

A quick hush spread over the class. Then the students broke into applause as Gov. Mark R. Warner took his seat next to them in the small, tiered Darden School classroom. They were listening to business professor Alexander Horniman discuss what qualities make for a high-performing business. The 10 students were not your typical business executives; they are school principals from around the state participating in a new program Warner initiated, called the Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program.

Although the governor, a former venture capitalist, was relaxed and made jokes as he answered Horniman’s pointed questions, he spoke seriously about what he expected from the school principals, whom he challenged to improve the education and lives of youth by “turning around” poorly performing schools in Virginia.

The state chose the Darden-Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education to custom-design a program teaching school principals and other administrators ‘turnaround’ principles. Warner’s program, part of his Education for a Lifetime initiative, aims to equip school officials with the business skills corporate executives and “turnaround specialists” use to solve problems and make changes that put complex organizations back on the track of success.

“That’s why I came to visit you on just the second day of this program,” Warner told the participants, who were selected for their ability to become change-agent leaders in their schools. “I wanted you to know firsthand how important this is to me. … If we show positive results, we’ll be creating something exciting,” he told them. “We’re trying to break the mold and create a new category of turnaround specialist, to systematize an approach” for improving schools and student achievement.

“It may allow us to demand increased compensation and power on your behalf,” he said, adding that they’ll have to be willing to shake things up and show results.

After visiting the class, the governor spoke about the program and his other education initiatives and introduced the soon-to-be turnaround specialists at a large gathering in the South Lounge of Darden’s Saunders Hall.

Darden-Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education

Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program


Harold J. Burbach, professor of education and chairman of the Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy
Alfred R. Butler, associate professor of education in the Department of Leadership, Foundations and Policy

Alexander B. Horniman, Killgallon Ohio Art Professor of Business Administration and senior fellow, Olsson Center for Applied Ethics

June West, academic director of the Darden-Curry Partnership and Darden assistant professor

Tierney T. Fairchild, executive director of the Darden-Curry Partnership
Outside specialists: Harlan Platt, Northeastern University and School Turnaround Program, Rensselaerville Institute

Horniman, whose teaching focuses on leadership and organizational behavior, took the participants through the process of a near-disastrous business and how the turnaround would work emphasizing how the leader’s behaviors and choices make a difference.

“We’ll be considering how everything you do matters,” he said.

Accountability is another crucial element that matters. Associate professor of education Alfred R. Butler discussed recent federal and state legislation that has forced educators “to rethink the allocation of resources, especially for the most needy students.” Rather than looking at average scores coming out of public schools, administrators and teachers have to address the improvement of individual student achievement.

In other sessions, education professor Harold J. Burbach emphasized that the leader-principal trying to improve a low-performing school must understand and be particularly sensitive to the socio-economic environment the students come from, taking into account their history of low academic performance.

Turnaround leaders also must be skilled at energizing the people they work with.

“They need to tap the collective intelligence and experience of teachers … and find ways for them to share that with new teachers,” Burbach said.

The principals, who come from all corners of the state, will take their new skills and knowledge this fall either back to their own schools or to another chronically struggling school. A second group of 10 educators will go through the training next year. U.Va. is working with the Virginia Department of Education to identify which schools are eligible to participate.

The turnaround specialist program comprises three concentrated residential modules at Darden over the school year: the initial five-day curriculum, one-day leadership workshops and a turnaround seminar. This is the second project of the Darden-Curry Partnership; they undertook their first project, which is privately funded, to Florida school superintendents last summer.

“Like their peers in the corporate world, the leaders of our schools and school systems need access to the most advanced management tools and techniques available today. Our partnership is designed to provide them,” said David Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education.


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