published Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Assistant principals expand skills set

Vanessa Harris, right, a vice principal of Brown Academy, speaks with her mentor Kim White, left, president of River City Company, during the Principal's Leadership Academy "meet and greet" Wednesday evening at the Chamber of Commerce building in Chattanooga, Tenn.  Assistant principals are receiving mentoring from dozens of business leaders in the community.
Vanessa Harris, right, a vice principal of Brown Academy, speaks with her mentor Kim White, left, president of River City Company, during the Principal's Leadership Academy "meet and greet" Wednesday evening at the Chamber of Commerce building in Chattanooga, Tenn. Assistant principals are receiving mentoring from dozens of business leaders in the community.
Photo by Jenna Walker.

2nd Principal Leadership Academy, Protege-Mentor pairings

* Kelly Coffelt, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts — Jim Weigert, Comcast

* Chrissy Easterly, East Hamilton School — Thomas Loafman, Volkswagen of America

* Cheri Grant, Red Bank Elementary — Kathy Owen, Unum

* Vanessa Harris, Brown Academy — Kim White, River City Co.

* Jacqueline Hauth, Westview Elementary — Sydney Crisp, Unum

* Tammy Helton, East Ridge High — Monique Berke, Unum

* Andrea Johnson, Lakeside Academy — MaryStewart Lewis, AT&T

* Kimberly Roden, Battle Academy — Van Wardlaw, TVA

* LeAngela Rogers, Hunter Middle — Rosemarie Bryan, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel

* Greg Wilkey, Tyner Middle — Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation

Source: Public Education Foundation

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With 13 years of teaching and three years as an assistant principal under her belt, it would be easy to assume Vanessa Harris already has what it takes to become a principal.

But Harris, who is an assistant principal at Brown Academy, says she still wants to develop skills the school system can’t necessarily offer — business skills. That’s why she applied to join the Principal Leadership Academy.

“I’ve always felt like the schools were not treated like a business as they should be,” Harris said during the program’s first mixer Wednesday evening. “Our school is a business. Our parents and our students are our clients. I think adopting that mentality can move my school from good to great.”

Harris is one of 10 assistant principals across Hamilton County who were selected as proteges for the yearlong program, now in its second year. The proteges attend monthly leadership courses and are paired with mentors from the business community who help them hone skills in management, finance and resource allocation.

The academy — sponsored through a partnership between the Public Education Foundation, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the Hamilton County school system — is grounded in the idea that being a school principal isn’t that different from being a corporate executive, program leaders say.

“We’ve had educational leadership courses in our community, but there’s never been anything that really focuses on the business aspect of school leadership until this,” said academy Director Godfrey Saunders. “We’re beginning to see just how important that aspect is.”

Out of the 14 proteges from last year’s program, half already have been promoted to principals. On Wednesday, new Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith appointed six former proteges from the program as principals, and another was selected to head a Nashville school.

Crystal Sorrells, a program graduate and the newly appointed principal to Orchard Knob Middle School, attributes the sense of confidence she feels entering her new role as a mark of the academy’s effectiveness.

“Every workshop, every focus group we have has been so relevant,” she said. “It gives you insight into the kinds of decisions and strategies that corporate America deals with, and it gives the business community insight into the challenges faced by a school principal.”

On Wednesday evening, that give-and-take already was starting as Harris got to know her mentor, Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., the downtown development firm.

“I think it’s going to be great,” White said after the mixer. “When you’re in the business community, it’s sometimes hard to think about how you can contribute to school system ... But through this I think I can help connect dots and bring more resources together.

“And [Harris] can help me learn the true story about public education, and help me get that good story out there.”

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