Northeast Leadership Academy of NC State, the number one educational leadership preparation program in the country, received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. 

With a mission to help more students succeed, the money will be used to train future school principals who will eventually go to work in low-performing rural schools in northeastern North Carolina.

“U.S. Department of Education grants for school leadership development are actually very highly competitive,” said Bonnie Fusarelli, professor and director of the Northeast Leadership Academy of NC State.

The grant money will be used to continue to train and develop leaders that will serve as principals in one of the 13 rural school districts within the NELA partnership.

Andy Overstreet, the director of education leadership initiatives for NELA at NC State, said the training and development process is rigorous, thorough, and continues post graduation.

“The program is very instructional, but it is also augmented by a lot of realistic, workshop-type, hands on things,” Overstreet said. 

The program spans two years and includes executive coaching from retired principals and superintendents, as well as a full-time internship during the second year.

The program operates under a cohort-based model, where 20 to 21 students start and complete the program together.

“Using a cohort-based model, students really get to know each other,” said Lesley Wirt, project coordinator of the NELA at NC State. “They’re really supportive of each other, and they help get each other through the program.”

NELA is also a highly selective program, which chooses students already from northeastern North Carolina, according to Overstreet. 

“They come from there; most of them have their families there, so when they go back they tend to stay,” Overstreet said.

Overstreet said this addresses the problem of getting good principles to come to these schools, as well as getting them to stay there.

The $2 million grant will be used to continue the leadership development that NELA has already started, Wirt said. 

“We are excited this fourth grant will allow NELA to have another cohort of students who want to become school leaders in rural schools,” Wirt said. 

Fusarelli said NELA is awarded grant money in part because the organization addresses criticisms that traditional university college of education programs receive.

“Why we get the money is because we address those criticisms and we take them and launch them into programs that are innovative,” Fusarelli said. 

These innovative programs such as NELA are what can potentially help turn schools around, Fusarelli said. 

On average, a principal impacts about 22 percent of a students’ overall achievement level, Fusarelli said.

“In the high-poverty schools that we work in, the principal’s impact is actually twice as much,” Fusarelli said.

In addition to the principal’s impact on students, they also have a significant impact on teachers. 

Fusarelli said one of the biggest reasons that good teachers stay at a school is because they have a good principal who supports the work  they are doing.

Developing these principals with great leadership qualities is where the NELA comes in. 

Fusarelli referred to the NELA as “the fixers” of traditional approaches to preparing leaders that have been criticized.

The grant money from the U.S. Department of Education will continue to fund NELA so leaders can continue to take innovative approaches in order to help the schools of northeastern North Carolina succeed, Fusarelli said.