Four years ago, Learning and Leadership Services had an innovative idea. How about bringing a principal to work for SDCOE to help design leadership programs and support current and aspiring administrators?
They hired Dan Wolfson, who became SDCOE's first principal in residence. We now have 13 of them in Learning and Leadership Services, as well as a newly hired one working for the South County Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA.
"I don't think there's any other place in the state or even in the nation that's doing something at a level like this," Wolfson said.
So, what do principals in residence do?
Since they work in different units, their focus and work can look quite different, but for the most part, it involves a lot of coaching, research, classroom visits and professional learning support.
"It's really about working to improve schools and systems in a way that increases student achievement for each and every child," Wolfson said.
In that unique position, the principals in residence are able to work with educators at all levels, from aspiring principals to central office leadership. Because of this, they must have a multifaceted skillset, Wolfson said.
They have all come directly from school sites and were selected based on their success of building systems resulting in the improvement of teaching and learning, and being skilled in knowing how to respond to challenging situations.
"They can speak directly to the ins and outs of the work, because they've lived it," said Jean Madden-Cazares, assistant superintendent. "Even though they left their sites, their daily work keeps them very connected and current on what's happening in classrooms."
That first-hand experience helps not only with knowing what is needed but also with credibility, said Carol Osborne, lead principal in residence for Learning and Leadership Services. In that role, Osborne helps to build capacity of the team and coordinates work for those in Learning and Leadership Services.
Wolfson is now senior director of the District and School Improvement unit, where he oversees nine of
SDCOE's principals in residence. There are also four recently hired principals in residence in other units: two in the College and Career Readiness unit who focus on equity and access, one in the Assessment, Accountability, and Evaluation unit, and one in the South County SELPA.
"The folks in these positions have been highly successful principals, in a variety of settings, focused on building leadership expertise across the county," Osborne said.