i3/EIR InProgress: Rural Schools Leadership Academy

The i3/EIR grant program funds hundreds of organizations throughout the country, all of whom are engaged in forward-thinking, even boundary-pushing work. The InProgress interview series conveys the breadth and excitement of our diverse grantees by letting them explain their work in their own words. These aren’t success stories, exactly, but portraits of ongoing work, with all the inspiration and obstacles that implies.

For this installment we hear from Jennifer Dubey, Managing Director – School and Systems Leadership, at Teach For America, an EIR grantee for the Rural School Leadership Academy.

What are your goals with your EIR grant?

The Rural Schools Leadership Academy (RSLA) was founded to provide TFA alumni with robust professional development to develop the skills and mindsets necessary for rural school leadership. We started RSLA with the following goals in mind:

  • Accelerate talented people with an aptitude for leadership into rural principalships
  • Meet a critical need by providing high-quality leadership training that would otherwise not be available in rural LEAs
  • Increase retention of TFA alumni in rural communities through a pathway for advancement

The EIR grant allows us to extend the impact of RSLA to more participants, extend the amount of professional development participants engage in, include participants who are not TFA alumni, and to partner with AIR to conduct an evaluation of our impact.

How far along are you in the grant?

We are in the second year of a five-year grant.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been meeting our recruitment goals, both in terms of participant numbers and participants that qualify for our evaluation. To qualify for our evaluation, participants need to be in one of four states (Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas) and work in an adult facing leadership role at a school with several years of student achievement data. Our program engages participants in four live gatherings throughout the year which are hosted in rural communities, so travel can be a challenge for participants going from rural region to rural region. They are often also working in high-demand settings that make it difficult to cover their roles when they to be absent for the Thursday and Friday we gather together. In terms of the evaluation, it has been challenging to ensure participants are in states and schools that have the data we need to align to our study—both historical data and projections into the future. While we have a large pool of participants who are in the correct role for the evaluation, they aren’t all completely positioned for a valid evaluation. We’re actively looking for ways to pre-identify a pool of eligible candidates to recruit versus seeking to bring candidates into the evaluation after the recruitment process.

What’s an unexpected lesson you’ve learned so far?

The grant has not only positioned us for an evaluation, we’ve learned so much about the dynamics, realities, and opportunities that are at play through an evaluation process. Through some of the challenges above, we’ve been able to better align our internal measures and use new tools while thinking through ways to strengthen the program holistically from the information we are learning through this process.