H-E-B will donate $2 million Wednesday to the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) Foundation. The district will use the funds to implement a nationally-recognized training and mentorship program for aspiring principals.

With a strong track record in tough, urban districts in Washington D.C., Baltimore, and at least 18 other cities, New Leaders‘ Aspiring Principals Program has the potential to develop skilled, reform-minded leaders within SAISD and attract new talent to the district, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.

During his tenure in Chicago, Martinez says he supervised a number of principals who graduated from the program and was “very impressed with the leadership.”

“In Chicago, New Leaders provided one of the major pipelines for principals,” Martinez said. “And one of the things that impressed me about New Leaders is that … they tend to have a higher retention rates for principals, not only in school districts but in actual campuses.”

In addition to a three-week summer training in Memphis, participants complete a residency under a mentor principal in SAISD while receiving in-person professional development, consultation, and coaching from the program’s staff.

“The program allows us to recognize existing principals that are really doing great and have a strong academic track-record and at the same time create a pipeline for aspiring principals,” Martinez told the Rivard Report.

H-E-B’s gift is expected to support approximately 25-30 participants over the next two school years and partially through 2018-2019, including the program’s pilot cohort of five assistant principals, who began their training this year. If successful, the district will fund the program thereafter.

The donation, Martinez said, “allows us to put the program in place and really ensure that it’s the right fit for us, and that we’re going to be successful with it.”

The initiative represents an extension of H-E-B’s investment in inventive educational programs, most recently demonstrated in the company’s $3.6 million contribution to SAISD’s promising technology school, CAST Tech.

“H-E-B is known as an innovative company … and we appreciate innovative approaches,” said H-E-B spokesperson Dya Campos. “We wanted to support SAISD and the leadership at SAISD in creating something that will be long lasting and beneficial to many principals.”

Between the residency, training and support during participants’ first year as principals, and limited support during their second years, enrollment in the Aspiring Principals Program costs approximately $80,000 per person, including a $10,000 stipend awarded to principal mentors. Though current participants won’t be required to serve in an SAISD school, Martinez said “that might be something we’ll do” in the future.

According to News Leaders’ website, the program teaches aspiring principals to “strengthen instruction across a building,” “enact ambitious improvement plans,” and “foster high expectations and shared accountability.” Initiated in 2001 with 14 principals, the program has expanded to prepare almost 2,400 principals with an estimated impact on 450,000 students.

With approximately 10 principal vacancies in the district each year, Martinez is excited to see how the prestigious program enriches SAISD’s leadership.

“This school year that we’re in now is the first year that we did this smaller cohort,” Martinez said. “Next year we’re going to double it, and we’re hoping that we’re able to really attract a lot of candidates.”

2016 Mentor/ Aspiring Principals SAISD

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.