Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Principal Turnover

Principal Turnover

Gerard Babo, Ed. D
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ
NJ-NCPEA Co-President

This is my first foray into the world of “blog” writing and I’m not quite sure what approach to take with this forum.  Last month my colleague, Chris Tienken, quite articulately addressed one of the major issues facing all public school educators as we move into the new century.  He provided a viewpoint supported by empirical evidence, which I found to be quite informative.  However, I would like to take a bit of a different tack with my entry into this new communication medium and that is to pose a question to all of us in the field of educational administrator preparation - Are we doing enough to assist those new principal candidates whom have graduated from our programs to successfully navigate their first year as a principal?  Or, do we just assume that they will adapt and learn how to successfully survive the first year of their new leadership position like many of us did when we took our first position?

Granted, there are so many other pressing issues that are much more timely and relevant to us in the field of principal preparation.  There are the revisions to the ISLLC standards that are being proposed, evolving from six standards to 11 (Superville, 2014).  Additionally, there is the continued focus across the nation for a more substantive and rigorous approach to principal evaluation, which is packed with a bevy of potential pitfalls. Yes, these two issues alone will have long standing implications for us all.  However, based on my own past personal experience, and a current research project that I am working on, I have been inspired to address this potentially important topic.  You see, the issue of principal turnover, as identified by the School Leader’s Network (2014) and discussed by some others (Fuller, 2012; Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton & Ikemoto, 2012), is rarely addressed by those of us charged with preparing the next generation of school leaders yet one that I believe begs our needed attention. The literature on first year principals is not as rich as one might think, as a matter of fact, it could be considered deficient (Burkhauser et al, 2012).   Beteille, Kolgrides and Loeb (2011) reported that one in five principals leave their school each year and many of these principals are from districts that are socioeconomically challenged and poor- performing. Burkhauser et al (2012) claim that approximately 12% of first year principals leave after one year and 11% after two years.  One can only assume that this issue will be exacerbated as more and more states demand stricter evaluation methodologies that include overall student academic growth as a weighted multiplier in many, if not all, of the evaluation schemas.

I think all of us would agree that the role and responsibilities of a building principal have changed dramatically over the past twenty years.  Some might even argue that the added level of  ccountability is approaching untenable proportions (Darling-Hammond, Meyerson, LaPointe & Orr, 2010).   It’s no wonder that the rate of principal turnover has increased, specifically in high poverty areas where student achievement as measured by state standardized assessments is perennially low (Fuller, 2012; Burkhauser et al, 2012).  Subsequently, what can we as a national or local organization do to possibly address the issue of post-graduate support for our new principal candidates and possibly stem the tide
of turnover?

I don’t know about all of you but my first year as a new principal was harrowing, to say the least, and that was at a time when the demands of public policy and the cloak of accountability were somewhat less imposing.  Before obtaining my first principal's position, I had spent 15 years in the classroom and four years as an assistant principal of a large middle school, so I was not naive about the expectations.  However, being in a new school system in a brand new job did create a level of palpable anxiety.  Luckily, I had a good friend two towns over who had been a principal for 5 years who helped me through those beginning months and first year.  It was at that time that I thought it would have been great if the school where I had received my formal education had some type of program for new principals, some support system, a community, if you will, to help and counsel new building principals.

Many states require that new principals be mentored their first and/or second year on the job.  But as many of us know, these mentorships are not always of top quality.  Very often they are only as good as the assigned mentor and since many of these mentors are retired administrators many of them don’t really know or completely understand the new demands placed upon the current contingent of new principals.  It is by no means the fault of the assigned mentor it is just that many of them acquired their administrative experience and expertise during a completely different era.   Additionally, in most of these cases the relationship between mentor and mentee is more formal and consequently the mentee might lack a certain level of candor concerning specific job requirement and

However, what if programs or forums were devised and administered through university partnerships and/or local NCPEA affiliates that could provide meeting places for new principal candidates to learn about new school initiatives, curricular programs, IDEA regulations, testing, personnel management, teacher evaluation and supervision, administrative code, current research, etc.?  Could new school leader programs or forums potentially assist our new candidates through the first and second year of being a principal?  Regardless, even if the programs were not able to regularly afford extensive professional development they could at least provide risk-free environments for new principals to share their concerns, trials and tribulations with colleagues going through the same thing.  Professors of Educational Leadership, either though their departments or as NCPEA representatives, could oversee and manage these events and provide advice, counsel and professional expertise while satisfying one of the many tenure required components, service to the field.

The time has come for us in NCPEA to take a bit of a broader look at our mission and goals.  Maybe we need to include a perspective where we are not just solely interested in the preparation of future building leaders but also dedicated to their success after they have left our campuses.  The research is quite clear about the fact that the second most important person in a school that has the greatest impact on student success is the principal (Leithwood, Louis-Seashore, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004). Unfortunately, the research also suggests that when principals leave their school the impact is not only felt the year they leave but also the year after (Burkhauser et al, 2012).  Maybe we as a collective group can help to stem the tide of principal turnover by simply making sure our newly employed graduates have a place they can turn to for information, counsel, camaraderie and a friendly, non-threatening listener.

Beteille, T., Kalogrides, D. & Loeb, S. (2011, July). Stepping stones: Principal career
paths and school outcomes. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic

Burkhauser, S., Gates, S.M., Hamilton, L.S., and Ikemoto, G.S. (2012). First-year
principals in urban school districts: How actions and working conditions relate to
outcomes.  Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.

Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., LaPointe, M., & Orr, M. T. (2010). Preparing
principals for a changing world: Lessons from effective school leadership
programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Fuller, E. (2012, July 16). Re: Examining principal turnover. [Web Log Message].
Retrieved from http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/examining-principal-

Leithwood, K., Louis-Seashore, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How
Leadership Influences Student Learning. Review of Research. Ontario: The
Wallace Foundation.

School Leaders Network (2014). Churn: The high cost of principal turnover. Retrieved
from http://connectleadsucceed.org/

Superville, D.R. (2014, September 15). New school leaders’ standards released for public
comment.  Education Week. Retrieved from