Godfrey Saunders sat in the back row, pumping his fist, whispering, "Yes, yes!"
The leader of Hamilton County's Principal Leadership Academy saw that the vertical alignment and leadership concepts that business consultants were discussing with academy students were exactly what he'd been trying to instill.
The professionals from High Performing Systems Inc. who spoke Thursday to the academy are an example of the business component Saunders has brought to the first year of the training program, he said.
"Leadership is collaborative; it isn't just management anymore. You've got to involve all your stakeholders," said Saunders, a former principal. "When I started, you could operate in a vacuum. You can't do that anymore."
A dozen assistant principals comprise the inaugural year of the academy -- a partnership of Hamilton County Schools, the Public Education Foundation, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
PRINCIPAL LEADERSHIP ACADEMY 2011
Randall Bell, Hixson Elementary/Rivermont Elementary
Haley Brown, Normal Park Museum Magnet Lower
LaKesha Carson, Orchard Knob Middle
Robin Cayce, Normal Park Museum Magnet Upper
Rachel Duke, Sequoyah High
Blake Freeman, Orchard Knob Middle
Preston Gonter, central office
Katrina Gravitte, Red Bank Elementary
John Pierce, Red Bank High
Crystal Sorrells, Brainerd High
Jennifer Spates, Bess T. Shepherd Elementary
LaFrederick Thirkill, Apison Elementary
Cindy Wages, Loftis Middle
Source: Hamilton County Schools
Combining instruction and mentoring from area business leaders, the class is providing would-be principals with strong tools and practical lessons, some participants said.
"Having a mentor, and them being over large corporations, you can go talk to them about things going on in your building," said Orchard Knob Middle assistant principal LaKesha Carson, whose mentor is Jim Steffner with Electric Motor Sales and Supply Co. "And then if they say, 'That's the decision I would have made,' that gives you confidence."
Crystal Sorrells said she appreciates the variety of perspectives the academy has provided. When they went over school budgets, participants heard from corporate leaders, the school system's chief financial officer Tommy Kranz, a school bookkeeper and a principal.
"It's practical, useful," Sorrells said. "It's all those questions we'd want answered before you become a principal, rather than taking the job and then having to ask."
Many of the business mentors, who keep in touch with the assistant principals at least once a month, also have visited their assistant principal's school.
Blake Freeman, another assistant principal at Orchard Knob Middle, says his mentor, Unum Chief Operating Officer Bob Best, has connected him with an outside job coach that Unum employees use.
"I get to have conference calls with this woman, and I've learned so much about my own strengths and weaknesses," he said.
Saunders said program leaders still have some logistics to figure out in the coming years. For instance, since the program now is available only to assistant principals, eventually they will run out of candidates. Saunders said he is looking at the feasibility of opening the program to nonadministrators who are interested in gaining leadership skills.
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Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...