FAU professor wins $3.5 million grant to reform education in Florida

Dylan Bouscher

Back in 2010, Florida won $700 million in President Obama’s Race to the Top program to reform public education.Then last December, an assistant professor in the College of Education got a $3.5 million grant to launch his program to improve the quality of school principals –– quick.

Dr. Daniel Reyes-Guerra in the Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology created a program called “P.R.O.P.E.L.,” which stands for Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Educational Leadership. It’s designed to train thirty teachers at a time to lead schools that are lowest in performance, and highest in need of principals, according to Dr. Reyes-Guerra.

The first group of trainees started classes in Dr. Reyes-Guerra’s program last Saturday, Jan. 28, less than a month after the grant money was given. They’re taking courses in critical urban educational leadership, school governance, instructional leadership and action research.

Dr. Reyes-Guerra partnered up with Director of Leadership Development, Dr. Sharon Moffitt, in Broward County Public Schools to create P.R.O.P.E.L. The program will also give these teachers a master’s degree in educational leadership ahead of the normal two years it takes to earn one.

The pair then asked principals to nominate teachers who were qualified to be “turn-around principals,” which are principals who can make tough decisions when schools need drastic changes, as Dr. Reyes-Guerra defined it.

Nominating the teachers instead of letting them select themselves is “a huge, significant change in how things are done in the education process,” he said. He explained that teachers used to “self-identify” themselves as worthy of the position.

Of the original 70, only 44 teachers were left after an information session on Jan. 5. In the session, Dr. Reyes-Guerra explained that participants would have to sacrifice their Saturdays for the next year and a half. He said this caused many of the teachers to turn away from the commitment.

After submitting their transcripts, an essay, taking a standardized test, and sitting through a 20-minute interview, 44 went down to 30. This became the first group of trainees.

These 30 teachers will become students in the program, taking 18 courses in a year and a half. The first group of teachers should be ready to be assistant principals with masters degrees in educational leadership by June 2013, The second group is expected to be trained by June 2014.

The $3.5 million will only be enough funding for the first two groups of thirty teachers. When the grant money runs out, Dr. Reyes-Guerra will have two options if he wants to continue the program. He could either win research grants to study the outcome of the first two groups, or start charging new groups for the training.

“Right now if you want to become an administrator, you have to pay for your own masters degree,” he said. “These people are really lucky that we’re paying for it. Going forward, new groups might have to pay for it.”

Dr. Reyes-Guerra hopes to improve student learning, and create a new model for school leadership development with P.R.O.P.E.L.

“In the end, all of this comes down to creating democratic citizens. Public education has been under fire too long and it’s time we demonstrate we are doing a good job, and hopefully this program will do that.”