Not Just Charters: Walton's Surprising Gift for School Leadership In Traditional Public Schools

Recently, I wrote about a $30 million Wallace Foundation initiative aimed at helping school district central offices to shift from a bureaucratic compliance role to more of a serivce-oriented, support function, especially in the area of supporting principals. The logic being that the more principals are relieved of central office paperwork and administrative tasks, the more time they are able to spend providing instructional leadership that helps grow effective teachers and boost student achievement. Research has shown that high-quality principal leadership is second only to effective teachers in driving student achievement.

The Walton Family Foundation has recently turned its attention to school leadership in its home state of Arkansas. Walton is well known for its massive support of the charter school movement, but a new grant from the funder is aimed at traditional public schools in Arkansas, especially those in the state's poorest areas. Walton has just awarded a $1.9 million grant to the University of Arkansas Foundation and the university's College of Education and Health Professions for a program aimed at creating a corps of skilled administrators who can provide more effective leadership in some of the state's high-need public schools.

The Principal Fellows program plans to train 60 administrators in a high-impact leadership program designed to give them the tools needed to tackle challenging education issues and build high-performing schools in some of Arkansas' poorest communities. The program will take the administrators through a year of training, then place them in internships with master principals and mentors, giving the principal fellows an up-close look at the challenges faced faced by educators, children, and families in needy schools.

Principal fellows programs and aspiring principals programs have been utilized in other states, including New York and Texas, to create networks of effective school leaders who can provide the instructional leadership that research has shown is a key factor in student achievement.

While Walton is primarily known as a funder of charter schools and other alternatives to the public education status quo, at least on the national stage, the funder follows a more broad-based approach when supporting the education needs of its home state. Walton has given past support to programs and projects aimed at Arkansas public school districts. In addition, the University of Arkansas Foundation has a strong relationship with the funder as the recipient of past grants, both in Walton's education and Arkansas grant programs.

The bottom line here is that this grant from Walton, coupled with Wallace's $30 million principal supervisor initiative, provides further evidence that funders are looking at factors beyond teacher training and support that lead to better schools and better-achieving students.

What's more, even though broader funding trends in the philanthropic community have not been encouraging for traditional public school systems, as I wrote about here recently, they have not been left out in the cold altogether. Supporters of K-12 public education and districts that are willing to look at themselves and craft creative solutions to the challenges they face can get in on the education funding that major foundations such as Gates, Walton, Arnold, Dell, and others have at their disposal.