Aspiring Leaders Academy trains Richmond County teachers to become administrators

Barbara Brown was a legal assistant watching judges sentence high-school dropouts for crimes in 1989 when she realized she wanted to become a teacher.


“When I saw so many young men coming through the system, especially young black men, it became clear to me what I had to do,” Brown said. “I took a lot of their stories to heart. I saw education was the missing piece.”

She left the legal world and became an educator, but after 23 years in the classroom, she realized she wants to do even more.

Brown, an instructional coach at Freedom Park Elementary School, is now using a Richmond County School System exploratory program to build her resume and land a job as a school principal.

The Aspiring Leaders Academy puts teachers in a one-year intensive training program to help them become administrators and principals. The program is about to start its fourth year and has so far graduated about 60 educators, eight of whom have since been promoted to leadership positions, said Stacey Mabray, the interim senior director of curriculum and instruction.

After completing the academy in May, Brown and fellow Aspiring Leader Uhuru Burnette are now the lead teachers at the Richmond County Summer School – essentially acting as assistant principals.

They are responsible for paperwork, bookkeeping, checking dress code, fielding calls from parents and observing classrooms, all duties a full-fledged administrator would do.

Brown said she hopes to become a principal while Burnette, a social studies teacher at Glenn Hills Middle School, is shooting to be a superintendent.

Both have applied for administrator jobs for the 2012-13 school year, banking on the Aspiring Leaders Academy being a gem on their resume.

“This is hands-on, real-life experience,” Burnette said of his summer school position. “You can’t learn this in a classroom. This isn’t in any textbook. And I was able to get this position from going through the academy.”

Mabray said the academy began in 2009 out of a need for the district to build its leadership base.

Teachers have to go through an interview process and essay component to be chosen for the academy. When selected, they meet twice a month for instruction sessions where they hear tips from guest speakers such as principals and the superintendent’s cabinet members.

The teachers are matched with a coach and learn how to analyze data and conduct classroom observations. They often work in internshiplike jobs, such as the summer school assistant principalship.

Mabray said the program has been vital, especially as an older generation of administrators is leaving the field and positions are opening for younger applicants.

“A lot of times, just like in the classroom when you learn something, in order to really grasp it you have to practice it,” Mabray said. “(The academy) does create this incubator or lab situation where they have an opportunity to really flex their muscles and figure out some things in a controlled situation.”

Carl Robinson, a physical education teacher at Diamond Lakes Elementary School, is acting as the lead teacher for the two-week Eighth Grade Transition Academy this summer after graduating from Aspiring Leaders.

During the year, he is responsible for just his class of pupils. This summer he is overseeing students and teachers, and measuring academic progress.

“After doing this, honestly, I feel I could go anywhere,” Robinson said. “I feel I could become an assistant principal, a principal, anything.”

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