DALLAS – The first initiative of the George W. Bush Institute will focus on improving the performance of school principals, former first lady Laura Bush announced Wednesday.
"We know the teachers have a direct and enormous impact on student performance and school principals shape the environment in which teachers are able to operate successfully," Bush told a group assembled at a Dallas high school for the announcement.
The institute's Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, or AREL, will consist of school districts, universities and foundations offering educational programs to current and future school leaders, Bush said.
"A well-trained, energetic teacher can be stifled under lackluster or discouraging administrators," said Bush, a former school teacher.
The Bush Institute hopes to certify at least half the nation's public school principals by 2020.
"We hope that with our partners we can change the environment in which teachers operate and therefore help teachers succeed by helping their leaders succeed," James K. Glassman, executive director of the institute, said during the news conference.
The nonpartisan George W. Bush Institute is part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include the presidential library and will be located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas. Ground is set to be broken in November.
James W. Guthrie, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the institute, said program participants must meet certain criteria by, for instance, offering classes in areas including business and ethics and guaranteeing participants will spend time in schools.
He said they want those who participate to be better trained on how to manage schools. Guthrie said school districts in the alliance also must expand the roles of principals to make them more like chief executives.
So far, organizations in six cities are participating. That includes school districts in Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano in Texas; Marian University in Indianapolis; the business schools at Saint Louis University in Missouri and the University of Denver; and SMU's school of education in Dallas.
"I think there's a growing awareness throughout the country that principals need the authority to go with the responsibility," Glassman said.
The school of education and human development at Southern Methodist University is collaborating with a local education nonprofit for its program, which they hope to offer next year.
"I think that this alliance plans to promote preparation of leaders that combines the best practices in business with the best practices in education," said David Chard, dean of SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
Andrea Hodge, who directs a program at Houston's Rice University designed to educate school leaders by combining training in business, entrepreneurship and leadership, said that while Rice had not decided whether to join the alliance, she likes that the AREL program focuses on the need for such training.
"Leadership development is a critical need for our K-12 system and it's great to have more people talking about it," Hodge said.
AT&T is contributing $1 million as initial funding for the alliance. Various education organizations are also collaborating with the alliance, including Teach for America and the Council for Education Change.
George W. Bush Presidential Center, www.georgewbushcenter.com