President Obama recently outlined his strategy to offer states regulatory relief from NCLB’s most onerous sanctions in a package that included NAESP’s long-standing position to protect principals from unfair and automatic dismissals as a requirement of federal school improvement models. (NCLB is also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA.)

Obama announced the regulatory relief package during an invitation-only White House conference attended by NAESP member Lacey Adams, an experienced “turnaround” principal from St. Joseph, Missouri, and NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly, who participated in the event to champion principals’ interests and ensure that Administration officials had the benefit of the front-line experience only a turnaround principal like Adams can provide.

Specifically, the regulatory relief package now includes a mandatory review of the current principal rather than his or her automatic dismissal as the first step in implementing any federal school improvement model. This represents a significant shift in the administration’s previous requirements calling for the principal’s immediate dismissal when a school implements one of the models, which enables a district to receive federal School Improvement Grant funds.

“NAESP has long been an advocate of this more reasonable approach to school improvement—one that doesn’t begin with the ‘ready, fire, aim’ strategy that characterized earlier discussions about the federal models,” said Connelly. “NAESP applauds the administration’s policy shift and welcomes this important step forward in supporting sustainable school improvement and acknowledging the vital instructional leadership of principals.” Next, Connelly said, the NAESP advocacy team will work to ensure that the regulatory relief package doesn’t take on a new round of debilitating sanctions.

Adams, a successful turnaround principal of two schools who recently has been named principal of Humboldt Elementary School, said principals also need greater autonomy in their buildings. “Principals need the ability to make staffing decisions and create solutions that accommodate school and community cultures,” Adams said. “No improvement plan will work if it doesn’t fit the school, support teacher and staff development, and acknowledge the important role of families and caregivers.”

According to the administration’s package, beginning in November, state education officials can apply for waivers that will provide them with the flexibility to develop more locally defined accountability processes. In exchange, state officials must agree to adopt standards that prepare high school graduates for college and careers and develop processes that reward the highest achieving schools and install interventions in the lowest performing schools.

Additionally, the waiver package calls on states and local districts to develop rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems by the end of the current school year with input from teachers and principals and using standards based on multiple performance measures.

“NAESP applauds these policy shifts as well,” Connelly said. “We have long been advocates that principals deserve a comprehensive, fair, competency-based evaluation, also best conducted at the state and local levels. We look forward to working with education officials at all levels to ensure that principals’ perspectives and experiences are central to the development of state and local evaluation systems.”

On a related topic, NAESP and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), have partnered to develop the first-ever set of comprehensive guidelines to determine how, when, and why principals should be evaluated. The Principal Evaluation Initiative, led by NAESP and NASSP but fully informed by a task force of practicing principals and nationally renowned education researchers, will result in best practice evaluation design and help inform the development and refinement of state and local processes. The final guidelines are due in early 2012.

"Turnaround Times" by Gail Connelly, Principal magazine, March/April 2010

Read more about the Administration’s regulatory waiver package at www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility.

Find details about NAESP’s Principal Evaluation Initiative at www.naesp.org/principal-evaluation-initiative