Developing a cadre of effective principals isn't easy, according to a new Wallace Foundation study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and five other districts.
"Building a Stronger Principalship" chronicles the first-year efforts of six districts trying to develop a "principal pipeline." Those districts -- CMS; New York City; Denver; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Prince George's County, Md. -- will continue the grant-supported study through 2016, trying to find better ways to recruit, train and evaluate principals and assistant principals.
|West Charlotte's John Wall (center), one of Morrison's first principal hires|
One early hazard noted: A focus on accountability can lead to principal firings, "thus simultaneously increasing the demand for new principals while making the position less attractive to prospective applicants." That may sound familiar in an area that has seen significant principal churn and complaints that veterans are being run off. But CMS wasn't one of the three districts where the issue was noted. The study includes this quote from New York City (a district that hires as many as 200 principals a year): "The principalship is not that attractive any more. People see it as a career ender. Think about it: you go into a failing school, you’re given maybe two years to turn it around, and if you don’t, you’re gone [and no longer have a job]."
The study gives CMS credit for a strong partnership with Winthrop University, which collaborated with district leaders to create a Leaders for Tomorrow graduate program to train principals with the skills CMS seeks. The district is also noted for its five-year program of coaching and education for new principals.
The study focuses on 2011-12, the transition year between Peter Gorman and Heath Morrison.
During his first year, which just ended, Morrison named 26 principals, including one for the new Grand Oak Elementary that brings CMS to 160 schools. Morrison told me he counts it as a victory that there seems to be less confusion and turmoil about principal changes than there was when he arrived. He credits that partly to better communication and community involvement. He's also striving to create enough of a leadership bench that when a successful principal moves on, there's a member of that school team ready to step in.