In the fall of 2006, leaders of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) and the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP) began discussing the possibility of creating a leadership academy for district and school administrators.
Project Leadership, which both associations supported, was no longer serving the needs of administrators. The need for something more aligned with assisting school leaders to improve teaching and learning within their schools and districts from a systemic approach was needed.
Governor Gregoire's initiative, Washington Learns, was just coming to a conclusion and the Governor had accepted key recommendations from the process. One of the recommendations was to continue to develop leadership skills among school and district administrators. The leaders of AWSP and WASA approached the Governor and later key legislators with the idea of creating a leadership academy that would be both a government and private business partnership. In the spring of 2007, the legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation that formally created the Washington State Leadership Academy (WSLA). The legislation created a partnership among the Governors Office, OSPI, Professional Educators Standards Board, universities providing administrators certification programs, the Washington Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), Washington businesses, WASA, and AWSP. The legislature provided $1.3 million of state funding to support the academy; and AWSP and WASA were designated as the managing organizations of this partnership.
As the legislature and Governor were considering the concept of the leadership academy, WASA and AWSP were contacting various private organizations to determine their interest in joining the partnership. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation officials were very interested in the idea. They invited WASA and AWSP to submit an application for a foundation grant to support the academy. This application was approved with the stipulation that state funding would also be provided for the academy.
During the fall of 2007, Dale Kinsley was hired as the Washington State Leadership Academy Director. Merrilou Harrison was hired as the Leadership Learning Specialist and Amy Riggs as the Communications & Technology Specialist. A design team of principals, superintendents, central office administrators, a university representative, ESD representative, and a representative from OSPI was created to plan and implement the academy. Over the next six months, the structure and curriculum for the academy was designed.
In the late spring of 2008, twenty districts in four ESDs were selected to participate in the first cohort. These districts agreed to a two-year commitment to participate in field-testing of the academy curriculum and structure. WSLA is completing the first year of this commitment. A second cohort including twelve to fifteen districts in two additional ESDs is now being organized.
WSLA has become a reality! It is evolving in a systems approach to building powerful district leadership teams focused on improving student learning and improving teacher practice. Within this framework, administrators are also improving their practice and becoming more effective leaders.