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Nebraska public school districts begin unified effort to prioritize principal leadership, launch Tri-City ASCEND Academy

A collective commitment to principal leadership is underway in Central Nebraska, with a trio of school districts — Grand Island Public Schools (GIPS), Hastings Public Schools (HPS) and Kearney Public Schools (KPS) — announcing the launch of the Tri-City ASCEND Academy. This organic principal initiative was grown out of the districts’ need to focus on systematic improvements to the preparation, hiring, support and management of school leaders.

“We’ve long known that strong principal leadership is a key lever to improved student achievement,” said Nebraska Education Commissioner Dr. Matthew L. Blomstedt.  “The efforts of the Tri-City Alliance demonstrate partnerships to build a lasting legacy of strong leadership and are the type of models we need to build and sustain educational improvement across the state.”

Also referred to as ASCEND, the Tri-City Alliance is a principal pipeline that offers a range of talent management activities for which the districts themselves are responsible. These include: 

  • Leader standards, which guide all pipeline activities
  • Preservice preparation opportunities for assistant principals and principals
  • Selective hiring and placement
  • On-the-job induction, evaluation and support.

(S, M. Gates, M. D. Baird, B. K. Master, E. R. Chavez-Herrerias, 2019)

ASCEND is supported by each respective school districts’ boards of education.

“I am so excited about this opportunity to partner with GIPS and KPS,” said HPS Superintendent Jeff Schneider. “We know we can accomplish more for our students by working with and learning from our peers. The fact that the board members of each district are supportive of this cooperation is a very positive sign that this Academy can continue to grow and benefit students from all three communities.”

GIPS, HPS and KPS collectively serve more than 19,000 students and represent the three largest school districts in South-Central Nebraska. Findings from the Tri-City ASCEND Academy will be shared across the state.

With growing populations and an evolving educational landscape, it’s imperative that principals be prepared to understand and meet the needs of their students. “The Tri-City ASCEND Academy aims to lift leaders to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said KPS Superintendent Dr. Kent Edwards.

“Cities are growing in Central Nebraska, and with growth comes increased diversity. Each of us knew that we could do more together,” said GIPS Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover. “Research shows that an investment in principal leadership makes a significant impact on student learning. This comprehensive pipeline approach, grounded in an equity-centered leadership continuum, will allow each of our districts to better develop and elevate school leader talent.”

The ASCEND Academy was a derivative of the Tri-City Alliance, which was formed nearly five years ago between the Grand Island, Hastings, and Kearney school systems. This alliance analyzes and spotlights district commonalities so that each can better serve its stakeholders. “The ASCEND Academy will provide excellent staff development and direct exposure,” said Edwards. “It will bring experience to building-level leadership that will prove invaluable to our school systems and potential principals.”

“This is truly a one-of-a-kind program that will augment the experiences of administrators and positively impact the educational opportunities of students in Central Nebraska,” said Dr. Grover. “Each district will work to identify candidates, who will then have the opportunity to participate in a customized curriculum developed by the Tri-City Alliance and influenced by university partners. These candidates will join a cohort and be assigned a mentor. Future principals will intern with field experience in their home district and in one of the partnering districts to broaden their perspective through an on-the-job role and real-world preparation that is rarely provided to aspiring principals.” 

“The ultimate goal is for members of the ASCEND cohort to have the training and support necessary to be ready day one when assuming the role of the principalship in our districts,” said Schneider. “This Academy will give them the tools required to excel.”

The Tri-City ASCEND Academy is aligned with leading national research on effective pipelines for future school leaders sponsored by The Wallace Foundation. ASCEND is supported through Nebraska’s participation in the ESSA Leadership and Learning Community project sponsored by The Wallace Foundation. 

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