Maine Schools in Focus: Growing Partnerships to Develop Educational Leadership Pipelines

MSinF_Ed Leadership Pipelines
Ian Mette, Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership

For the last several years Maine has been facing a shortage of the number of qualified school administrators who are certified to move into assistant principal or principal positions, and the projected numbers into the future are not any better (Task Force on School Leadership, 2016). To solve principal shortages nation-wide, the Wallace Foundation has worked to develop the Principal Pipeline Initiative with large school districts (Syed, 2015), which include places like Denver, New York City, and Charlotte, SC, none of which have less than 92,000 PK-12 students in each school district. By comparison, in the 2018-2019 school year the entire State of Maine educated just under 183,000 PK-12 students (Maine Department of Education, 2019), or a little less than half of the smallest school district working to develop new administrators in the Wallace Foundation Principal Pipeline Initiative. With the Wallace approach to principal pipeline development, Maine simply does not have the ability to develop future leaders through wide-scale, large-district development. So, how can Maine and other states with smaller school districts overcome this capacity obstacle to develop educational leaders in the 21st century?

The answer, interestingly enough, is somewhat simple and in line with common sense values about leadership held by many Mainers. In short, school districts and educational leadership programs can, and should, a) collaborate more closely on leadership development and b) develop trusting relationships between practitioners and researchers to bridge the theory-practice gap that often plagues many professions (Mette & Webb, 2018). Starting in 2016, the Bangor School Department and the University of Maine Educational Leadership program began the Bangor Educational Leadership Academy (BELA), which is in its third year and focuses on creating learning laboratories for aspiring educational leaders to “try on” leadership, working closely with mentoring administrators, help lead professional development, and examine and update policies and practices through action research projects. Using close relationships between practitioners and researchers allows space for innovation and re-imagining what educational leadership preparation programs could be to better meet the needs of school districts today. Over the past several years, the BELA program has brought in dozens of guest lecturers from the Bangor School Department to connect theory to practice, created multiple action research projects that have contributed to the instructional needs of the school district, and by the end of the cohort, will have helped to develop 11 educational leaders who will be certified as either a principal or a central office coordinator. With these newly minted educational leaders, the BELA program will have created a pipeline of administrators for the Bangor School Department who have been trained with a collaborative effort to merge the best of theory and practice.

To expand this program and to regionalize this effort, the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development will offer an expanded educational leadership program, the Maine Educational Leadership Academy (MELA) in Fall 2019 that will partner with 22 cooperating districts in Central and Eastern Maine. Currently, 15-20 new aspiring educational leaders are expected to join MELA. Once again, the same collaborative structures are being used to meet with superintendents each semester, review upcoming professional development and school improvement efforts, and find intersections with coursework. Guest lecturers from across the collaborating districts will be used to enrich instruction, and yearly evaluations of the MELA program will inform any future regionalization efforts to better support professional development throughout Maine school districts. The goal of MELA, as with BELA, is to provide aspiring educational leaders with laboratories of practice where they can try on leadership and explore their own beliefs, values, and interpretations of leadership. At the heart of this work, we ask educational leadership members to consider the following:

  • Interpersonally, how can school leaders create effective working relationships and mobilize others through collaboration?
  • Cognitively, how can school leaders implement effective learning and teaching practices that will facilitate school improvement processes at the local level?
  • Intrapersonally, how can school leaders develop their own leadership philosophy and use this within their school district to accurately reflect on their own strengths and opportunities for improvement as a leader?

There are those who might counter that BELA and MELA are not true pipeline programs—that they simply are not big enough to make a difference in school districts. To that, we would kindly counter that many programs “from away” have come and gone, all intending to impact Maine schools, but few have been successful because they do not take the time to consider or understand the unique culture of Maine and the smaller size of Maine schools and districts. What we offer is a true homegrown effort, where researchers and practitioners come together, communicate with each other, and through collaborative conversations create practical leadership development programs that contribute directly to local school improvement efforts needed here in Maine.


  • Maine Department of Education (2019). Student Enrollment Data. Augusta, ME.
  • Mette, I. M., & Webb, B. (2018). Developing leadership pipelines in Maine school districts: Lessons learned from a school-university partnership. Maine Policy Review, 27(1), 44-45.
  • Syed, S. (Nov. 2015). Building principal pipelines: A strategy to strengthen education leadership. New York: The Wallace Foundation.
  • Task Force on School Leadership. (Feb. 2016). Report of the Task Force. Augusta, ME: Maine State Legislature.


Any opinions, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the Maine Schools in Focus briefs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect institutional positions or views of the College of Education and Human Development or the University of Maine.