UW News

October 5, 2011

School districts ‘critical friend: Center for Educational Leadership celebrates 10 successful years

UW News

Principals from California's Norwalk-La Mirada School District observe classroom instruction. “This was one of our guided learning walkthroughs where we take leaders into classrooms in order to help them develop a deeper vision of quality teaching and learning,” said Stephen Fink, executive director of the UW’s Center for Educational Leadership.

Principals from California’s Norwalk-La Mirada School District observe classroom instruction. “This was one of our guided learning walkthroughs where we take leaders into classrooms in order to help them develop a deeper vision of quality teaching and learning,” said Stephen Fink, executive director of the UW’s Center for Educational Leadership.CEL

They say nothing succeeds like success, and the UW College of Educations Center for Educational Leadership is celebrating 10 years of fine work with school districts regionally and across the country, working for equity and excellence in the classroom.

Under the general theme that “you cant lead what you dont know,” the center has a strong record of working closely with districts at all levels, using a research-based approach to reduce the achievement gap and improve teaching and learning for all students.

So its time for a celebration, which will be at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, in Kane Halls Walker-Ames Room.

Center Director Stephen Fink will welcome guests and Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education, who will give opening remarks. The keynote speaker will be Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs. There also will be presentations by Susan Enfield, interim Seattle Public Schools superintendent; and Kevin Chase, superintendent of the Grandview School District.

The centers website states its mission and approach plainly: “At CEL, we believe that equity in the classroom is the social justice issue of our time. We believe that goal cannot be achieved until every student in every classroom experiences rigorous instruction every day. And we believe that will not happen without strong, skillful leadership.”

The center was born of the same initiative from President Richard L. McCormick in 2000 that created the Institute for K-12 Leadership in 2000. Fink took over in 2001 and anchored the center within the College of Education. “We formed a good partnership and our mission was very clear from the get-go — the elimination of the achievement gap and promotion of high-quality learning for all students.”

He said it all boils down to leadership: “If the kids are not learning, theyre not being taught well, and if theyre not being taught well, thats a leadership issue.”

Ten years later, Fink said, the center has worked with hundreds of school districts across 14 different states, throughout the West as well as in New Jersey, Louisiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. “Im proud weve been able to exercise our mission, and I believe that after 10 years we have had a positive impact on teachers, and on school leaders and district leaders.”

Hes proud, too, that school connections are nurtured over time. “Weve formed long-term partnerships with districts that have spanned many years — in many cases eight or nine years. Theres a strong retention, so that once a district starts working with us, they maintain that relationship with us even though the work changes and morphs over time.”

The centers website has stories of these partnerships and how they have evolved. Here are two:

  • Californias Norwalk-Mirada school system had been through various workshops and development sessions to little avail over the fewer than one-third of its students who read at a proficient level. Superintendent Ginger Shattuck helped forge a partnership with the center that continues. “We called CEL our ‘critical friend. They did a beautiful job of helping us realize our strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “They saw what we needed and guided us to the right kinds of lessons.”
  • Anacortes School District leaders were weary of vague teacher evaluations that even State Superintendent Randy Dorn called “neither fair nor meaningful.” A law was passed requiring a new evaluation system and Anacortes became one of eight districts named to pilot such work. The district turned to the center for assistance that continues today. “We wanted the research base, and we wanted the best that was out there,” said
    Anacortes Superintendent Chris Borgen. “CEL delivers its model in a very in-depth way, with a specificity that really helps districts and schools grow. It gives a common language on what works best, how to get there, and what we should see teachers demonstrating. Its very powerful.”

The “model” referred to is the Center for Educational Leaderships instructional framework, The 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning, or 5D for short, developed in 2007 based on UW faculty research. The centers website states that the framework is “the only comprehensive instructional framework in the country accompanied by an on-line assessment tool that measures leaders ability to observe and analyze instruction, provide useful and timely feedback to teachers, and guide teachers learning. More than 2,000 district leaders, school leaders, and coaches nationwide have participated in the 5D assessment process since its development.”

The center works on a fee-for-service basis and so is fully self-sustaining, Fink said. “Weve been able to stay agile and do good work and be competitive with a lot of centers and a lot of corporate entities with a lot more money and venture capital behind them,” Fink said, adding that the center pays its own rent at Northgate and even contributes funding to the University.

The last word goes to Dean Tom Stritikus, who said that on the eve of its 10th anniversary the Center for Educational Leadership “has become a national thought leader, working with hundreds of schools, districts, universities, service districts, and professional groups to enhance professional practice and develop strong leadership for school improvement. In Washington State alone, our current and past work has touched more than 100 school districts.

As a research-affiliated institute, we are always examining our own practices, always deepening our own understanding, and always moving forward with one unwavering goal:  To create excellent, equitable learning opportunities for all students.”