Improve Our Schools By Attracting and Retaining Principals
By Mark Cannizzaro
Great schools begin with great leaders, and good leaders become great with experience. To truly improve our schools for the long term, it is time our city’s leaders focus on school leadership. Stability is lacking, and we need a sustained effort to ATTRACT and RETAIN SCHOOL LEADERS. Unfortunately, good leaders are often reluctant to accept the position of principal. Many view the position as “thankless” and undoable. Of those who do agree to become principals, about half leave within three years.
Here are some ideas to increase stability within school leadership positions:
Choose leaders carefully and support them. A principal’s job is complex. It requires instructional, organizational, and managerial expertise, the emotional intelligence to bring disparate ideas together, the ability to handle extreme pressure, and the courage to avoid decisions that may be politically expedient but not in the best interest of students.
It is the DOE’s responsibility to identify, prepare, and support potentially great leaders. Assistant principals must be groomed to become principals and made familiar with regulations, laws, discipline codes, budgeting, computer applications, building plans, and the nuances of employee contracts before they are asked to lead schools. It must be understood that it will take time for school leaders to grow and earn buy-in from those they are leading.
Leadership often requires making changes that move individuals outside of their comfort zone. The DOE must understand this and stand with school leaders when push back occurs, often in the form of anonymous and baseless allegations. The job will be more attractive when city leaders demonstrate that they have courage too.
New principals must be mentored and made to feel comfortable knowing that mistakes are considered part of the learning process. This type of culture yields experienced principals who feel a sense of duty to similarly support the next generation of leaders.
Reduce unnecessary obstacles. A serious commitment to eliminate unnecessary obstacles would increase job satisfaction as:
• Fair Student Funding has been broken for too long and needs to be fixed immediately.
• The workload of a principal is not only unreasonable, doing all that is required is impossible.
• Required paper work is too often unnecessary and duplicative.
Engender trust, evaluate fairly, and listen. The process of choosing school leaders, granting completion of probation and evaluating them fairly must be transparent and engender trust. To do so, the DOE must:
• Carefully vet and select leaders. Ensure them that they will be supported in another position, regardless of their previous assignment, should it not work out.
• Be transparent with prospective school leaders regarding plans for closure/consolidation.
• Ensure those leading struggling schools a fair performance review that considers the challenge they have willingly accepted.
• Use the evaluation system as a transparent tool to aid in the development of school leaders rather than to simply “rate” principals.
• Listen to school leaders. They know what needs to be done to support students and ensure a quality education for those in their charge. This will help to avoid recurring missteps and ill-advised directives that lead to frustration and career dissatisfaction.
We need to encourage our most talented leaders to accept the challenge of leading a school. A principal’s job is difficult, but it is not thankless. In fact, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. DOE and city officials must acknowledge and embrace the fact that leadership skills take time to develop. They must remove obstacles and support principals in a transparent way to develop outstanding school leaders and excellent schools. Hiring a school leader must be viewed as the beginning of a commitment: It is in everyone’s best interest to do so! #
Mark Cannizzaro is the president of the Council for Supervisors and Administrators of New York City Schools.