A Pipeline for Principals

Setpember 2012, Volume 36, Issue 1

Finding, encouraging, and supporting potential principals is critical during this era when they are under tremendous pressure to both implement complex initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards and also to ensure that students are meeting high academic standards. “Principals in the Pipeline,” a feature article sponsored by the Wallace Foundation, offers a concise description of school leadership preparation for a select group of school systems that are part of a $75 million Wallace Foundation initiative to create principal pipelines. The goal of the Wallace initiative is to identify, train, and evaluate school leaders to create and maintain effective schools. The districts—Prince George’s County, Maryland; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Denver; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Hillsborough County, Florida; and New York City—were selected, in part, because they are already making strong efforts to implement the Wallace recommended standards.

The Wallace Foundation’s initiative presents a four-part model for principal support that is worthy of closer examination, and perhaps replication. In “Principals in the Pipeline,” author Pamela Mendels indicates that four elements are essential to obtaining effective principals: principal standards, recruitment and high-quality training, selective hiring, and a combination of on-the-job support and performance evaluation. Mendels provides evidence of how four districts have addressed each standard and also discusses how these four elements effectively fit together.

  • The first standard describes a need for “creating clear, rigorous job requirements detailing what principals and assistant principals must know and do.”  In New York City, these job requirements are listed as core competencies in five areas ranging from personal leadership to resources and operations. The New York City standards are being updated to include empowering teacher leaders through shared, distributed leadership.
  • The second standard addresses effective recruitment and high-quality training. While standards have been created to measure school leadership, which is a step in the right direction, Mendels still questions the process of school leader preparation. The featured school districts each have a component for preservice training; some include paid internships. For example, Prince George’s County features a pilot leadership program for teachers who have been identified as potential leaders and Charlotte-Mecklenburg is expanding its  district-university principal training program.
  • The third standard focuses on hiring individuals with the right skill set. Prince George’s County uses a three-stage hiring process, beginning with a 40 minute online assessment (PrincipalInsight assessment by Gallup). Mendels champions the use of this Insight assessment as the impetus for meaningful change in attracting quality leadership.  
  • Standard four speaks to quality support and evaluation. Mendels describes this as a two-step process beginning with an assessment of the novice principal, followed by a support program. One of the principal assessments used in the four districts is VAL-ED, developed by researchers at Vanderbilt (with Wallace Foundation support). In at least two of the districts, current assessments are being examined and updated—in these cases to improve measures of teacher retention, teacher evaluation, and time management.

“Principals in the Pipeline” also highlights the reality that many principals suffer from isolation. The use of support groups has proved helpful. For example, Gwinnett County pairs retired principals with novices with a requirement that new and assistant principals have at least two years of mentoring. Mentor training in topics such as the art of listening and questioning is critical to its success.

NAESP recognizes that context matters and the needs, for instance, of a new principal in a small, rural area may be different than those of a principal leading a school in a large, urban area. NAESP has been a leader in formulating expectations and procedures for principal mentorship and its nine month mentor internship program provides a rigorous standard for mentors who desire to become nationally certified.

As we look to the future for schools and principals, we must mindfully leverage valuable human resources (human capital) to develop impactful school leaders. Standards for the principalship, recruitment and training, hiring, and support/evaluation are critical pillars for our field. They are needed to ensure that high standards are maintained, that the needs of principals and those in the pipeline to the principalship are considered, and to develop policies and expectations for human resource development in education.

“Principals in the Pipeline” provides valuable insight into procedures that districts and schools can use to find, develop, and support school principals. NAESP is looking forward to more in-depth information from this Wallace initiative, and is using the research to bolster requests for increased support for early career principals and in our work to establish fair and balanced principal evaluations that will foster professional growth and development.

Christine Mason is NAESP’s associate executive director for research and professional development.

Nick Humbert is a George Mason University doctoral intern at NAESP.


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