The Educational Leadership Development Academy (ELDA) was created in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) at the University of San Diego in 2000, in partnership with the San Diego Unified School District. Alan Bersin, then Superintendent of the San Diego district, and Paula Cordeiro, Dean of SOLES, had envisioned a program that would address the shortage of principals in the district by attracting exceptional teachers to the principalship.
Initially, ELDA was funded by a grant from the Eli Broad Foundation. The Aspiring Principal Program provided a year-long apprenticeship and coursework leading to the California Preliminary Administrative Services Credential. Students were released from classroom teaching for the school year and apprenticed to an exemplary principal who coached the student and modeled effective instructional leadership practices and decision-making. The apprenticeship provided leaders-in-training the opportunity to observe the principal in leadership activities, practice leading while role-playing with the principal and other staff, and eventually lead activities that supported improved teaching and learning. Coursework was linked directly to the daily work of a site instructional leader, including engaging in problem-based learning activities, case studies, in-basket activities, and working with teachers to monitor and improve student achievement.
Beginning with the 2005-06 school year, the Aspiring Principal Program became a two-year program and was renamed the Aspiring Leaders Program. Students are now assigned to an exemplary principal for a minimum of 40 days (20 days each year). As with the predecessor program, students in the Aspiring Leaders Program engage in experiential learning directly related to their apprenticeship, reflect on their practice, and work closely with the supervising principal and university supervisor to develop and improve leadership skills.
Support for New Leaders
A second ELDA program known as The New Leaders Program began in 2002. This program resulted from a realization that newly appointed principals can benefit greatly from ongoing training and support as they earn the California Professional Administrative Services Credential.
The New Leaders Program provides coursework and support for site leaders who are in their first or second year of school administration. Students take university coursework and receive professional mentoring and additional skill development necessary to support their position and strengthen their role as an instructional leader. Each student is assigned a mentor who supports, guides, and counsels through the critical early years of administration. Mentors and their mentees meet regularly to discuss instructional and operational issues, and to improve and strengthen practice.
In 2005, ELDA began a new program entitled Leaders Exploring Administrative Possibilities (LEAP). LEAP provides highly qualified and motivated teachers the opportunity to learn more about their personal leadership capacity through leadership training and development as they explore a career in school leadership. LEAP students are invited to apply for the Aspiring Leaders Program.
The need for quality professional development opportunities for school leaders prompted ELDA to begin offering Summer Institutes and the Spotlight on Education Speaker Series in 2006. The ELDA Summer Institutes provide opportunities for the participants to meet, learn from, and confer with top educational leaders and researchers in the country, to develop a plan for meeting the needs of the students they serve, improve teacher practice, and accelerate student achievement. The Spotlight on Education Speaker Series provides well-known speakers and researchers in the field of educational leadership and development of professional learning communities.
From 2000 to 2005, ELDA graduated 65 students in the Aspiring Leaders Program, with seventy-eight percent of these graduates having assumed administrative positions. Since extending ELDA's programs to prospective candidates in all public and private charter schools throughout the County of San Diego in 2006, an additional 94 students have graduated the Aspiring Leaders Program, with the majority assuming administrative positions. In addition, 80 students have successfully completed the New Leaders Program and 43 have explored educational leadership through the LEAP Program.
ELDA graduates’ leadership performance, as evaluated by their district supervisors, shows both strength and promise. An increase in student achievement in schools led by ELDA graduates as further evidence of the program’s success: As of September of 2013, eighty-three schools in the County of San Diego alone are led by ELDA graduates of the Aspiring Leaders or New Leaders Programs. Of those schools, fifty-six percent showed growth on the California State measure of academic achievement, the Academic Performance Index, during the 2012-13 year, some as much as 54 points.
ELDA has become a nationally recognized school leadership training program. There has been extensive research on the program’s effectiveness and the positive contributions ELDA graduates have made in leading urban schools. In 2007 in a study for the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute conducted by Linda Darling-Hammond and others, ELDA was selected as one of the top eight principal preparation programs in the nation, and the only one in California.