With a recent study indicating roughly half of principals don’t last beyond their third year, superintendents and other district leaders have yet another thing to consider when screening candidates to lead schools, District Administration reports — and Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Schools (N.J.) Superintendent Barbara Sargent offers a five-step process to help manage the task.
Sargent's process includes a simple paper screen of submitted candidates using a three-point rating system; a 20-minute screening interview with the superintendent and relevant executive staff; and a deeper interview of final round candidates using a panel that includes teachers, parents, a curriculum or special education supervisor, another principal and a member of the school board.
After interviews of final round candidates are completed, Sargent says, panelists should be debriefed and given the chance to further narrow the field before the strongest candidates are selected, reviewed by the personnel committee, and presented to the school board for approval. Then, the selected principal should be introduced by the superintendent during a community event that allows both to connect to educators, families and other stakeholders.
Choosing the right principal for a school can make all the difference in a school’s culture and is key to the school’s academic success. Superintendents need to make sure they have a solid plan in place for choosing principals who are the right fit for the school and the district, and for making sure they have adequate support once they are hired.
Because of the stress and demands placed on principals, the job often has a high turnover rate. In a 2014 study entitled “Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover,” researchers revealed that “Twenty-five thousand (one quarter) of the country’s principals leave their schools each year, adversely affecting millions of children’s lives. Fifty percent of new principals quit during their third year in the role. Those that remain frequently do not stay at high-poverty schools, trading difficult-to-lead schools for less demanding leadership roles serving more affluent student populations.”
Because principal leadership also affects teacher turnover rates, choosing the wrong principal may damage a school’s effectiveness and staff morale in more ways than one. District leaders need to have a clear vision of what they feel makes a great principal, and ask candidates probing questions to determine whether they have the potential to meet that vision with the right support and mentoring.
Choosing principals for the school district is one of the most important responsibilities of a superintendent and one that can be time consuming and stressful. But, with a few tips in mind, superintendents who find effective principals also find useful allies in the effort to lead the district to improvement.