Training the next generation of leaders for eastern NC schools

ECU has a pipeline that produces a different kind of commodity — future principals. The PIRATE Leadership Academy at ECU prepares proven teacher leaders to become assistant principals and principals who eventually could lead entire school districts as assistant superintendents or superintendents.

“Being a school administrator is not easy,” said Cassandra White, PIRATE Leadership Academy coordinator and coach. “It’s for those who are truly dedicated and love what they’re doing.”

PIRATE is an acronym for “Principals from eastern N.C., for eastern N.C., who Innovate, Revitalize, Advocate and Transform Education for all students, families and teachers.” It is a specialized master’s program in which students will earn their North Carolina principal’s license. Participants are nominated by their school district leaders.

“When they select these nominees, you’re saying, ‘I recognize what you’re doing and I believe in you and I’m supporting you,’” White said.

“I had a principal who believed in me. She saw the leadership skills that I had. My superintendent at the time saw that I was a leader,” 2022 PLA graduate Jessica Prayer said. “I wanted to be part of that leadership opportunity.”

The grant-funded partnership pays for the students’ tuition, books, materials and conferences and provides leadership coaching for each ECU Principal Fellow during the two-year program. The students are placed into “assistant principal internships” within their school districts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and are in class Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We want them to have a balance with family,” said Hal Holloman, director of the PIRATE Leadership Academy. “We feel like this model helps promote that — it really helps sustain that — for our students.”

“One of the things that the principal program at East Carolina has helped me with is making sure that I am communicating clearly,” said Prayer — an assistant principal at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City. “I think the most important part with the communication is making sure that whatever goals you have are clearly communicated with all so that they know expectations.”

Students come from a 30-county region east of Interstate 95 and work together in a cohort. This model provides support and collaboration.

“We were able to learn from each other and also build family with each other,” Prayer said.

While the academy benefits students, the stakeholders in eastern North Carolina might be the biggest beneficiaries.

“Moms and dads and grandparents who want something good for their students,” White said. “The principals we’re preparing, they’re going to be good — they’re going to be that resource, that link for those students.”

“At East Carolina, I can clearly say they want us to be successful and they want to make sure we have the skills we need to do just that,” Prayer said.

See more about the PIRATE Leadership Academy