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New online master’s program offers real-world applications

by Andrea Bennett
The USC Rossier program combines face-to-face sessions with online coursework. (USC Photo/Meiko Takechi Arquillos)
The USC Rossier program combines face-to-face sessions with online coursework. (USC Photo/Meiko Takechi Arquillos)

Studies show that in California alone, more than 30,000 school administrator positions will need to be filled by 2018. Given this increasing demand and the unique set of responsibilities and skills required of strong school leaders, the USC Rossier School of Education launched a new Master of Education in School Leadership program this fall.

The 15-month program uses an interactive, synchronous platform that blends live, face-to-face sessions with online coursework — a platform designed by USC Rossier. Graduates who complete additional state-mandated requirements will be eligible to receive their California Preliminary Administrative Services Credential, which allows them to apply for school principal positions in California and other states.

USC Rossier Professor Darline Robles, former superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, designed the content of the program after extensive research and interviews with successful superintendents about the specific skills and knowledge they sought in exceptional school leadership.

“The Rossier program is unique in its practical application,” Robles said. “Our graduates will never be surprised in their first year as principals because we will have covered it in practicum, and they will have practiced their leadership skills in real-life settings.

“These students are going to be transformational principals that can take on difficult situations and ensure that their students learn at high levels,” she added.

Students across the country begin the program by identifying a complex problem of practice at the schools where they are currently employed, which they then work on throughout the program. They develop a digital portfolio and recommended solutions for a subsequent presentation to their district at the program’s conclusion.

“This program is unlike any leadership program in the field,” said Shane Craven, assistant principal at the Bridgeport School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “I have learned to look at leadership analytically and holistically, and utilize all aspects of a school setting through collaboration. The hands-on approach to learning allows me to see issues that are significantly impacting my own school setting.”

Throughout the program, students film themselves practicing leadership strategies, such as how to enlist the support of staff, which are then reviewed and critiqued with classmates using the online platform.

The curriculum also provides future school principals and administrative leaders with an understanding of how legislative and legal decisions on the local, state and federal levels impact their own districts, culminating in a trip to Washington, D.C. Students also learn how to manage multiple problems simultaneously, approaching each situation from different perspectives.

The experienced teachers, counselors and other educational professionals in the program’s first cohort are also being prepared to effectively support their teachers, create a shared vision and engage community stakeholders.

Robles said there is also an emphasis on how to identify, communicate and employ reliable research data to build high expectations for all students.

“Most principals do not get enough training in how to analyze test data and communicate that to teachers and to parents in ways they will understand,” Robles said. “And they need to know how to use data to determine changes that are needed to meet the needs of students.”

Christopher Guyer, a father of two who works as a full-time middle school history teacher, said he appreciates the flexibility of the program and has found its content directly applicable to his job.

“The program is providing me with the skills to be an outstanding urban leader in a range of settings — public, private and charter, giving me more career options as I move up through administration,” he said. “And each class gives me something that I can use immediately in my school.”

The USC Rossier program is now admitting students, with a new cohort scheduled to begin next spring.

Prospective students can attend the next online informational session on Dec. 5 at noon (Pacific Time).

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