North Carolina Principal Fellows Program

The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program (New NCPFP)

The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program:
Navigating North Carolina's Bold School Leadership Strategy

Just as executive leaders are essential to the success of businesses, principals are essential to the success of students and schools. The principal holds the highest leadership position in a school and is responsible for setting the vision for the staff and students, providing instructional leadership throughout the building, hiring and managing an average of 50 direct reports, overseeing a multi-million-dollar organization, and much more. Given the breadth and depth of the principal’s responsibilities, research unsurprisingly identifies the principal as one of the most important school-based factors impacting student achievement – second only to classroom teachers.

BEST NC’s new report The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program: Navigating North Carolina’s Bold Leadership Strategy provides education leaders and policymakers with an overview of the history of the New NC Principal Fellows Program, its impact on the principal pipeline in North Carolina, and makes recommendations to fortify the strengths of the program while expanding the program to have an even greater positive impact on student across North Carolina.

2015: The Transforming Principal Preparation Program (TP3)

Given the tremendous importance of school leadership, in 2015, North Carolina created the Transforming Principal Preparation program (TP3), a bold effort to redefine principal preparation across the state. Structured as a competitive grant program, TP3 significantly increased North Carolina’s investment in school leadership, while raising the bar on who can serve as a principal and enabling preparation programs to dramatically improve their practices. In 2016, following an initial planning period, the TP3 program received an additional $3.5 million in state funding, bringing total state funding to $4.5 million. That year, five Grantees were selected to receive the first round of funding. These programs began enrolling students in 2016 and graduated the first 117 TP3 principal graduates in 2018.

2019: Consolidation of TP3 and the Original North Carolina Principal Fellows Program

In 2019, the TP3 program was consolidated with the Original North Carolina Principal Fellows Program, creating a single, unified, principal preparation program for our state. The new program combined TP3’s competitive grants-based model with the Principal Fellows’ Commission-based governance to ensure North Carolina’s top talent was recruited and rigorously prepared for leadership in our state’s highest need schools.

By pooling the funding from each of the individual programs, the New NCPFP utilizes its resources more efficiently to recruit high-quality candidates to the most rigorous, evidence-based preparation programs. At current funding levels, the New NCPFP projects to graduate approximately 40% of the principals needed to fill open positions statewide.

Incorporating Research-Based Components for High-Quality Principal Preparation

The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program is open to traditional public and independent institutions of higher education as well as non-traditional, non-profit routes of entry. Through the incentive of state funds, the program integrates the key research-based components of successful principal preparation nationwide, including:

  • Proactive, intentional recruitment efforts
  • A high bar for entry
  • Rigorous and relevant coursework
  • Strategic and sustained investments in teacher & principal salaries
  • Teacher recruitment scholarships for hard-to-staff schools & subjects
  • Teacher leadership & alternative compensation pilots
  • Targeted investments in high-quality recruitment & principal preparation
  • A full-time, paid residency; and
  • A focus on authentic partnerships with and preparation for service in high-need schools and districts

Current Landscape: The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program

In the 2023-24 school year, eight grantees are operating regional preparation programs serving principal candidates rigorously selected in partnership with local school districts: