The role of leaders in public schools is evolving, and a New Mexico State University professor is helping to navigate the challenges.
An associate professor in NMSU's Department of Educational Management and Development in the College of Education, Amalia Humada-Ludeke utilized her experience as a former high school principal to educate the leadership of the COBRE school district in Bayard, N.M., on professional learning communities. She spent five years working in the district, initiating her early work with the high school.
The collaboration evolved into a university-district partnership. The majority of Humada-Ludeke's time was devoted to working with the principals and central office administrators to create a professional learning community, which was named the Administrators' PLC. This sustained platform provided the opportunity to build leadership skills as well as support the school leaders to lead systemwide change efforts in the district.
The NMSU-COBRE partnership was created through NMSU's Alliance for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.
"This is a place where I thought I could build upon my research, provide meaningful service, and I could also continue my love of being in the schools," she said. "When I had the opportunity to join the Alliance, I grabbed it, because it was actually an integral outreach position to really affect schools. That's where the innovation came in, to look at what we were already doing, but experiment or implement research of how we could do it a little bit differently, based on what I knew as a principal charged with leading systemwide change efforts."
Humada-Ludeke was a principal in Arizona for four years, and she was tasked with reforming underperforming schools.
"If I weren't a principal before there would have been a credibility issue," she said. "They really needed to feel that I walked in their shoes and could provide them with something relevant."
Humada-Ludeke began working with the COBRE district during the 2008-2009 school year. She focused her efforts on teaching the principals how to conduct professional learning communities for their teachers. They conducted the workshops twice a month during her five-year tenure, which formally concluded in 2013.
"I actually conducted longitudinal research with an IRB (Institutional Review Board)," she said. "The principals were willing participants."
After conducting research on the partnership, such as focus groups, individual interviews and field observations, Humada-Ludeke wrote her first book that was published in the summer of 2013, "The Creation of a Professional Learning Community for School Leaders: Insights on the Change Process from the Lens of the School Leader."
Humada-Ludeke said she discovered deep change and investment takes time, and the expectations of principals have changed as rapidly as eight years ago.
"When you think of history, that's just a blimp," she said. "Now we are expecting them to be instructional leaders plus managers.
"One of the wonderful pieces of the findings was that they saw their role as an instructional leader of how effective it was for the teachers," Humada-Ludeke said. "Their sense of urgency changed and their priority, and yes they were still school managers, but they were able to delegate that management. They saw how they became more connected to building the instructional piece. They became much more invested and much more judicious of how they learned, and the fact that they continued to learn."
Humada-Ludeke mentioned that in the second year the principals wanted individual attention, so she visited every school and offered support, which aligned with their partnership.
"I spent four or five days a month there," she said. "Partly because I'm still a researcher and wanted to see if it will work, but I also wanted to provide them the support."
Humada-Ludeke said she doesn't expect the era of high-stakes testing and accountability to change, but that it is important to equip principals and teachers with the tools to be successful in student achievement.