Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why is the Edreform world having trouble finding turnaround principals?

There were two fascinating pieces in the New York Times last week that centered on issues in the principalship. I don't often get my education news from the times but the juxtaposition of these two articles just one day apart was too much to resist.

The first article centered on the national effort to use different turnaround models for the most struggling schools in each state. Quick summary, these schools often leave the same principal in place that they had before or they really struggle finding people to take the positions. Not a real surprise to me because the turnaround principal job has got to be one of the hardest in education and for the people who take on the positions, there is absolutely no guarantee of success.

The second article focused on New York City Public Schools effort to collect unpaid lunch bills by charging school principals with the collection duties or else the money comes out of their individual school budget. Which, as a principal, seemed to me a completely insane policy. If you want principals to be instructional leaders in schools, it seems obvious to not saddle them with even more non-instructional duties.

How are these two things related? The reason we have a turnaround school principal shortage is that we keep putting up roadblocks to principals who are put in these positions. If we want more people to go after these jobs, they have to be given a ton of support, and not lunch bill collection duties to complete. It may seem like an absurd policy, but probably most districts in this country expect principal to be superheroes, to be strong instructional leaders, manage everything in the building, and make sure all policies are followed.

The principalship is a very unglamorous position. I happen to love it, and I embrace that element of the job. But if you are trying to turnaround a school, you better not have to collect lunch money too.

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