county boards
County Perspective
Developing the next generation of educational leadership in Santa Clara County

Faced with a large number of staff set to retire, the Santa Clara County Office of Education has developed a new generation of leaders. Working with a team of stakeholders, the Santa Clara COE developed a program that uses cross-department mentoring and project-based service learning to develop leaders.

Launched in 2009, Santa Clara COE’s Champions for Leadership, or CFL, matches future leaders with a mentor and provides program participants with professional development opportunities. All permanent employees including existing managers, teachers, office staff, classroom staff and service workers are eligible to participate.

Participants attend seminars once a month on such topics as effective leadership, communication, team building, change management and interviewing skills. In addition to the seminars, participants meet with an organizational mentor to develop a professional development plan and complete an action-learning project related to their work and Santa Clara COE goals. They also are a part of a cohort.

“CFL gave me an opportunity to refine my project management skills, my leadership skills and my public speaking skills,” said Summer Reeves, a communications and public relations specialist for Santa Clara COE.

Program outcomes are tracked and evaluated each year, including informal check-ins with participants and mentors, ongoing feedback and written participant testimonials. Formal surveys and evaluations show an increase in cohort satisfaction with professional development, an increase in the number of staff completing the program, repeat mentor participation and growth in participant knowledge and abilities. Extending to all levels of employees in the organization, the “cross pollination” of staff and departments has strengthened relationships and created more organizational synergy. Participants develop stronger peer relationships through their interaction with other mentees in their cohort. Since the program began, more than 100 staff have completed the program, creating a pool of staff ready for future leadership opportunities.

CFL also affects the lives of students through the numerous action-learning projects. In 2013, two CFL participants joined together to reduce high para-educator turnover in the special education department. They created an award-winning, short video showcasing para-educator work that is now used for recruitment.

Added Reeves, a 2018 graduate of CFL, “What I appreciate most about the program is that it gave me an opportunity to develop a great idea and collaborate with amazing people from across the organization. Every one of us has excellent ideas to make our jobs easier, better, more efficient, and CFL provides a supportive platform to bring those ideas to fruition.”

The 2018 California County Boards of Education annual conference, “Empowering Board Members,” takes place September 14–16 in Monterey, Calif.