Stopping the Churn in the Principal’s Office

RealClearEducationMatthew Clifford and Eva Chiang in Real Clear Education write about the constant churn of principals in our nation’s schools, which they claim has reached epidemic proportions. To stop the churn, they recommend five things that districts can do this school year to hire, retain, and develop their principals:

Hire for Now and the Future. Districts should hire new principals that have met clear standards of excellence and have potential for contributing to the district leadership team in the future. Filling a vacant position only to have the new principal leave within a year can do more damage than good.

Data systems can help here because districts can track factors like retirements so they’re prepared with a pool of well qualified aspiring principals to take those seats.

Principal Induction. Principal turnover is highest in the first three years on the job. Allowing principals an induction period during those critical years can help retain and develop them. The induction period should include reducing workloads, providing in-school supervision, coaching on instructional leadership, and building professional networks for the new leaders.

Manage Expectations. New principals and experienced principals that are new to schools need between three and five years to have an impact on student achievement. But new principals do have more immediate impact on elements like school climate, teacher retention, and implementation of new district policies and programs. Districts and principal supervisors should set reasonable performance expectations for what they can achieve in a year — and what they cannot.

Give Autonomy. “Balanced autonomy” gives principals the freedom to make critical decisions to run an effective school while the district holds them accountable for those decisions and provides the support to get things done. For example, school principals should have wide latitude on how the school schedule runs, and shouldn’t have to spend a large amount of their time on things like building maintenance.

Get Creative on the Perks. Research is clear that districts should pay their principals a fair wage. But districts should be creative on other perks that not many in schools are trying. For example, consider job sharing or look at some of the perks offered at companies such as Google. Districts may not have the budget to supply unlimited gourmet snacks, but they may be surprised by what they can do.

Together, these reforms can help school districts stop the turnover and build for the future. And districts can start enacting them now, just as the school year is starting.

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