Charter school network looks nationwide for top principals

Here’s some advice for school districts around the country: If you have a star principal who’s uplifted one of your toughest schools, treat her extra nice.

Because folks in Tennessee may be coming with a really sweet deal.

The Tennessee Charter School Incubator has just launched a pioneering effort to recruit top school leaders from far and wide, then give them extended training before they launch their own charter schools.  Those selected into the Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship will study everything from finance to community organizing to faculty development. They’ll see excellent schools up close. And many of them will end up in the Achievement School District, a Race to the Top-fueled project that aims to catapult the lowest-performing schools in the state into the top 25 percent.

“The reason we’re focusing on national talent stems from some lessons Tennessee has had the opportunity to learn – many lessons that in fact other states have learned the hard way,” Rebecca Lieberman, the incubator’s chief talent strategy officer, told redefinED in the podcast interview attached below. “One of those key lessons is that any reform effort that you put into place will only be successful if you have the right people and enough of them to make concentrated change.”

For now, the incubator has enough funding for six to eight fellows, with three years of support each. They’ll get training to build on strengths and shore up weaknesses. They’ll get time to build relationships and map out strategies. Ultimately, they’ll be tackling what Lieberman called “next generation challenges” of the charter movement – turning around struggling schools, scaling up successful models and introducing new ones.

The fellowship isn’t for everyone. A track record of success with high-poverty kids is a must. So is a desire to take ed reform to the next level. “We think there are leaders out there that are innovative, that are looking for their next challenge,” Lieberman said.

The fellowship, she added, may be a sign that those who want  top talent in education may have to fight for it: “The best principals and the best teachers – I want there to be competition over them,” she said. “And I want more of them.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

One Comment

Irene Keller

This sounds like a huge undertaking that has the potential to improve education throughout the United States. Sharing skill sets that succeed and communicating with educators across the board is a grand idea. It is not easy to document specific actions that make any school successful. Tennessee Charter School Incubator has the potential to bring excellent means for good education to light.

I am a retired teacher. I have had the honor to work with two extremely dedicated and brilliant administrators in my 30 + years of teaching. I know that I was able to take children in depth into their learning and my students always gained a year + more in there on year of learning with me. We need leaders who are able to articulate how that will be accomplished and it sounds like Rebecca Lieberman’s wisdom and leadership is what our nations education system needs. Thank you.

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