Atlanta Public Schools’ Department of Leadership Development Harnesses SchoolSims Simulations in Aspiring Leaders Program

February 9, 2024

By Wardell C. Hunter III, Ed.D. (Director, Leadership Development at Atlanta Public Schools) & SchoolSims

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is dedicated to cultivating leaders who embody excellence, equity, and a steadfast commitment to student success. Success in Atlanta Public Schools necessitates realizing a vision for school communities where students, families, and staff collaborate to establish a dynamic school culture crafted to guarantee the thriving of everyone within that community. In these classrooms, every child actively engages in compelling, challenging, and culturally/linguistically responsive learning daily. Additionally, the schools serve as hubs of learning that nurture a feeling of belonging, inclusion, and appreciation.

Dr. Wardell Hunter, the Director of Leadership Development at Atlanta Public Schools, crafted the Aspiring Leaders Program to achieve this vision, a dynamic initiative that integrates innovative elements, including using SchoolSims Simulations. The Aspiring Leaders Program strives to provide real-world experiences to its leaders and job-embedded coaching from experts inside and outside their schools. The goal is to create learning communities where aspiring leaders have time to problem-solve, collaborate, and benefit from other leader’s strengths and experiences.

“As the director of APS’ aspiring leader programs and leader development initiatives my goal and mission is to provide experiences and options that help every leader or aspiring leader in the district win. Simulations are an essential menu item that supports the mission.” —Wardell C. Hunter III, Ed.D. (Director, Leadership Development at Atlanta Public Schools)

Let’s explore the foundational principles of this program and how APS is molding the next generation of leaders within its educational community.

Providing On-the-Job, Relevant Experience

At the heart of APS’s leadership development approach is the belief that future leaders must engage in on-the-job, relevant experiences to effectively prepare for their roles. The program offers real-time, job-embedded coaching from experts within and outside the school environment. Workshops focused on national best practices in academics, socio-emotional learning, culture, and school operations provide aspiring leaders with a robust foundation for their professional growth.

The Four Pillars of Leadership Development

APS’s leadership development framework stands on four pillars, each designed to ensure a comprehensive and practical learning experience:

  1. Adults Must Be Involved in the Planning of Their Learning
  2. Experience Provides the Basis for the Learning Activity
  3. Professional Development Must Have Immediate Relevance and Impact
  4. Adult Learning Is Problem-Centered

These pillars form the guiding principles that shape every aspect of the Aspiring Leaders Program, fostering a personalized and balanced approach to adult learning.

Key Components of APS’s Leadership Development

  • Professional Development Workshop Series: Aspiring Leaders participate in interactive workshops facilitated by internal and external experts, focusing on critical aspects of APS’s Definition of Leadership Excellence.
  • Hands-On Practice: Participants engage in three types of hands-on practice, including School Improvement Projects, Essential Experiences, and the opportunity to lead APS’s Summer School programming. These experiences are documented through electronic portfolios to support coaching and preparation for leadership roles.
  • Personalized Coaching: Each Aspiring Leader is paired with an experienced APS leader who is a coach and facilitator throughout the program. Monthly coaching conversations focus on honing leadership skills, completing school improvement projects, and preparing for leadership interviews.
  • Community of Practice: Workshops provide a platform for Aspiring Leaders to collaborate, reflect, and receive peer support on Essential Experiences and School Improvement Projects.

Vision for APS Leadership Development

APS’s vision for leadership development revolves around maintaining a dual focus on equity and student outcomes. Through the Definition of Leadership Excellence, APS ensures a common language for excellence and supports continuous growth and improvement through leadership readiness criteria.

A Balanced Professional Learning Experience

Dr. Hunter recognizes the importance of a research-based approach to leadership development. Dr. Malcolm Knowles’s andragogy principles, emphasizing the involvement of adults in learning planning, experiential learning, immediate relevance, and problem-centered learning, are at the core of APS’s approach.

The Aspiring Leaders Program at Atlanta Public Schools exemplifies a forward-thinking and comprehensive model for leadership development. By incorporating SchoolSims simulations, APS ensures its future leaders are well-prepared and equipped with the practical experience needed to excel in their roles. As APS continues to refine and innovate its leadership development initiatives, the educational community can look forward to a future shaped by empowered, effective, and compassionate leaders.

Wardell C. Hunter III, Ed.D.

Director, Leadership Development


Atlanta Public Schools’ Instructional Leadership Development Program

Professional Development Guide (Coming Soon)

Unlock the future of leadership development with our professional development guide, co-created with Dr. Wardell Hunter and Atlanta Public Schools. Dive into SchoolSims’ innovative approach, covering beliefs, theoretical foundations, and pathways for leaders at all levels. Emphasizing ethics and equity, this guide offers a blended strategy, including simulation pedagogy, to elevate leadership skills and transform school success.

Please fill out the form below if you are interested in receiving our upcoming professional development guide.