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The Need for a Strong Principal Bench

A recent story of a principal who left the high school he successfully turned around in Newark, New Jersey illustrates how vulnerable turnaround reforms can be when the leader who implemented those reforms moves on.

Article by Eva Myrick Chiang June 24, 2016 //   3 minute read

The Hechinger Report  recently published a story about a principal who eventually left the high school he successfully turned around in Newark, New Jersey.  The story illustrates how vulnerable turnaround reforms can be when the leader who implemented those reforms moves on.

This particular story has a happy ending—the next principal to take over continues to improve the school and has won the staff’s and students’ respect and trust. Interestingly, the new principal came from out of state and had a previous track record of successfully leading a challenging high school. But Newark’s happy ending is unfortunately not always the norm.

Many times when a great principal leaves a school, they take with them the momentum they were building to improving student outcomes. District leaders are at times caught off guard and have to scramble to find a replacement. What’s even more worrisome: About half of new principals leave their jobs by their third year in the role.

The story highlights the importance of finding and retaining the best talent for the principal role. Finding the right principals requires school districts to take an active role in recruitment—not just posting a job opening and accepting whoever self-selects into the pool of applicants.

Finding the right principals requires school districts to take an active role in recruitment.

Retaining great principals is another piece of the puzzle. Districts have to ensure they have the right working conditions in place to keep their talent. Examples of this include having principal supervisors who have the knowledge and capacity to coach and support the principals they supervise. School leaders also need the explicit autonomy to make critical decisions for their schools.

What principals need, and how best they can be supported, is looked at in-depth in the Bush Institute’s Great Principals at Scale report. It’s key to helping us better understand how to find and retain the best talent, so that Newark’s story is one of many happy endings.