WMU gets $12.5M to foster leaders at low-income schools

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

One of the largest grants ever given to Western Michigan University will be used to fund intense professional development for the principal and three teachers at each of 75 high-poverty elementary schools across west Michigan to improve leadership and student literacy.

The High Impact Leadership for School Renewal Project will be headed by two longtime school leadership researchers at WMU, thanks to $12.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

The work will be focused on school renewal, said Patricia Reeves, a WMU associate professor and project director.

“Our work is about empowering principals and teacher leaders to have the tools to establish a continuous renewal model so that they can move their schools at a more steady pace,” Reeves said. “They will be creating expectations that are ground in a deep understanding of the students they serve, yet rigorous.”

The three-year initiative will give the schools a team of coaches who will work with them, and $20,000 for renewal efforts in schools that are implementing a set of new literacy essentials.

There will be many elements of the initiatives, Reeves said, including creating safe and orderly school operations, real-time and embedded assessments, and decision-making based on the data and evidence that come from continuous monitoring.

Jianping Shen, a WMU professor and project co-director, said the work is built on previously funded leadership grants and two Wallace Foundation grants.

“This project will continue to develop and validate the renewal model, as opposed to reform model, for school improvement,” Shen said.

The project will collaborate with Reading Now Network and the General Education Leadership Network.

In the future, students will have higher literacy skills than before, Reeves said.

“One of the first jobs of any school serving young children is to develop them into readers and writers,” Reeves said. “That is the gateway to all their future learning, and the gateway to opportunity.”