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District Launches New Aspiring Principals Program With First Cohort of Six Outstanding Assistant Principals

Aiken County Public Schools is embarking on an exciting partnership with the New York City Leadership Academy (NYCLA), in which six Aiken County assistant principals will participate in the inaugural cohort of the ACPSD Aspiring Principals Program throughout the 2019-20 school year.

Over the course of the school year, the six participants will engage in experiences specifically designed to build their capacity to lead schools in Aiken County. These future leaders will pave the way for the District to strengthen the quality of instructional leadership in the school district, ensuring that all students receive the highest possible quality education throughout the county.

“The ACPSD Aspiring Principals Program has the potential to impact our school district for years in so many positive ways,” Interim Superintendent King Laurence commented.  “"We are providing our aspiring principals with experiences never before offered in Aiken County, including an extended residency with an experienced principal."

Participants in the first cohort of the ACPSD Aspiring Principals Program include Sara-Beth Brown (Byrd Elementary School); Jeff Harting (Kennedy Middle School); Jennifer Kolmar (South Aiken High School); Edwin Bryce Laughter (Aiken High School); Leslie Lowe (Mossy Creek Elementary School); and Natonia Tillman Sullivan (North Aiken Elementary School).

Dr. Salvatore A. Minolfo, Principal at Belvedere Elementary School, will serve as Program Director for the ACPSD Aspiring Principals Program.

“The comprehensive nature of the professional development ensures that those who complete the program have a thorough understanding of the expectations of an ACPSD principal and are capable of meeting those expectations,” Minolfo stated. “The residency experience offers the aspiring principals the understanding of the complex nature of the role of principal – the ability to focus the work on the vision of the school while dealing with the daily work of observations, budgets, and discipline of students, to name a few.”


Through a stakeholder engagement process, NYCLA hosted focus groups and interviews with district leaders, board members, principals, assistant principals, and teachers throughout the district to build an understanding of the unique context of Aiken County, what challenges we face, and what it takes to successfully lead a school in our District. Stakeholders may access a complete summary of their findings in the attached report

Participants in the stakeholder engagement process said in order to be successful, Aiken County principals must be able to build relationships, communicate effectively to various stakeholder groups, build the capacity of their staff, and create a culture focused on collaboration. They also highlighted the need for leaders who are self-reflective, and are able to analyze and use data to address the needs of their students. Respondents expect to see growth in the aspiring leaders’ leadership skills throughout the year, along with increased capacity-building and collaboration among schools.


The NYCLA will be supported by District staff to co-create the full experience for the aspiring principals, with the goal of having the district fully take on responsibility for the program in years to come. Members of the NYCLA team worked with members of the District in early August to customize the program outcomes, standards, and assessments, and will continue to engage district staff as they design the curriculum of the 5-Day Intensive and monthly professional learning sessions. Dr. Minolfo will facilitate sessions with NYCLA as the year progresses.


The work of the aspiring principals began with a 5-Day Fall Intensive during the final week in September. Throughout the week, aspiring principals built an understanding of what it takes to be an excellent school leader in Aiken County. They engaged in personal reflection on how their own identity and biases influence leadership, and spent time analyzing data from their current school. They also developed the skills necessary to effectively lead and support the growth of instructional leadership teams.

Throughout the remainder of the fall, these aspiring principals will serve in their existing assistant principal role while engaging in experiences and assessments that support their growth across a set of agreed upon leadership competencies. They will also receive mentoring from the principal of their current school, and will participate in bi-monthly professional learning sessions (both in-person and virtual) with the other members of their cohort.

In early January, participants will come together for three days in preparation for their “switch site experience,” a unique opportunity to serve in another Aiken County school from January through March, working with the principal of that school to continue their learning. The professional learning, experiences and assessments will continue, focused around building an understanding of a new school, introducing themselves to the school community, and planning for the following school year. Aspiring principals will return to their current school in an assistant principal role for April and May, wrapping up the school year and their work in the Aspiring Principals Program. 

“As these aspiring principals exit the program, each participant will be equipped to begin their first year as a school principal with the skillset, understanding and capacity to develop a school culture that is learning-focused and engages all stakeholders,” Minolfo added.



The first cohort of Aspiring Principals, led by Dr. Sal Minolfo (from left,) with help of Jessica Cihal (NYC Leadership Academy), include Leslie Lowe, Sara-Beth Brown, Jeff Harting, Jennifer Kolmar, Natonia Tillman Sullivan, Dr. Edwin Bryce Laughter. 

ACPSD Communications Department