Help wanted: Principals who embrace change

In their recommendations for averting a leadership crisis, SMU researchers Lee Alvoid and Les Black examine school districts at the forefront of supporting and training effective principals

In a March 3, 2011 photo, teacher Josh Krinsky, left, and Principal Brett Kimmel get together in Krinsky's Global History class at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In a March 3, 2011 photo, teacher Josh Krinsky, left, and Principal Brett Kimmel get together in Krinsky’s Global History class at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Training principals for new roles is key to new U.S. Department of Education school reforms, according to a new report by researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. But insufficient training and support enabling principals to meet these new expectations is leading to a leadership crisis. Twenty percent of newly minted principals leave the profession after two years, and seasoned professionals are opting for early retirement.

Education researchers Lee Alvoid and Watt Lesley Black Jr. examine school districts at the forefront of supporting and training effective principals in “The Changing Role of the Principal: How High-Achieving Districts are Recalibrating School Leadership,” published July 1 by the Center for American Progress. As former principals and current faculty members at SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, both Alvoid and Black bring unique insight to the study.

Teacher evaluation is a key element in President Obama’s Race to the Top education reform initiative, which in turn places demands on principals’ expertise and time.

After analyzing six school districts across the United States with innovative support and training for principals, Alvoid and Black developed key recommendations for school districts.

Their recommendations include focusing principal training on coaching teachers, redesigning principal job descriptions to focus on teachers and student outcomes, and developing partnerships with universities to recruit and train future principals.

“Few reformers have paid attention to growing demands on principals, and few districts have intervened to help reevaluate the tasks,” says Alvoid, chair and clinical associate professor of education policy and leadership at the Simmons School. “The districts we feature in the report pay attention to the need of supporting practicing principals with deeper instructional training as they implement stronger teacher evaluation systems.”

Strategies differ among school districts
The charter school Uplift Education in Dallas added at each of its schools an operations director, responsible for all non-instructional aspects of running a school, such as building maintenance and student nutrition.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in Charlotte, North Carolina added a dean of students position to support principals with student issues. Other districts strengthened principal training, particularly on coaching teachers.

“The principal shapes the instructional vision and goals and is positioned to leverage his or her influence to effect substantial changes in instructional practice,” says Black, clinical associate professor of education and policy at the Simmons School. “In short — though the teacher has the most direct impact on students — the principal has the most direct impact on the teacher.’’ — Nancy George

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see www.smu.edu.

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU reflects the University’s vision of serving the most important educational needs of the city, region and nation, graduating students for successful careers in a variety of fields and providing educational opportunities beyond traditional degree programs. The school is committed to rigorous, research-driven programs that promote evidence-based, effective practices in education and human development.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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