For D.C. based author and illustrator Juana Medina, learning English in her native Columbia was a requirement she resisted as a child, yet appreciated later as an adult.
Today’s public school principals juggle a dizzying array of responsibilities, from teacher training and facilities management to school safety and community outreach. And the results of high-stakes student testing land on their desks, as well. So it’s no surprise that many local school districts see high rates of principal burnout and turnover. We explore the evolving expectations placed on public school principals and their impact on school performance.
- Jeffrey Holmes Principal, Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, South Laurel, MD
- Kate Rousmaniere Professor, College of Health, Education & Society, Miami University; author, "The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal" (SUNY Press)
- Andy Cole Manager of Special Projects, the Wallace Foundation; Former Director of Employee Performance and Development and Director of LEAD Fairfax, Fairfax County Public Schools
- Pamela Shetley Director of the Office of Talent Development and Former Principal, Prince George's County Public Schools
- Kavitha Cardoza Special Correspondent, WAMU 88.5 News
Inside The Death Of A D.C. Public School
By: Kavitha Cardoza
Shaw Middle School at Garnett-Patterson is located at 10th and V Streets, NW. DCPS created this school in 2008 by merging two struggling middle school programs, and hired a man named Brian Betts to become the school’s new principal.
Under him, Shaw Middle became a symbol of the promise of education reform — a place that challenged conventional wisdom about urban schools, and inspired teachers and students alike to succeed. But in 2010, Betts was murdered, and critics say the school’s unraveling in subsequent years says a lot about the larger problems within DCPS.
Alice Speck used to push her baby’s stroller past Shaw Middle School.
“I met this man standing outside the school, greeting students, shaking hands with community members, and it was Principal Brian Betts.”
She watched him, a Starbucks coffee cup in one hand, and offering hugs to those walking by. Speck was intrigued. Her son wasn’t even crawling yet, but Betts invited her and other parents to talk about the school.
“We would have had no doubts of sending our children here,” she says.
Former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee recruited Brian Betts from Montgomery County in 2008. Under him, Shaw Middle School became the face of the urban education reform movement — what was possible when smart, motivated adults did the right thing by poor, disenfranchised children. U.S. senators toured the halls, a Harvard professor conducted a national study there, and for journalists, it was a regular pit stop.
“He made us motivated, and want to go to school,” says Kimberly Fields. “You really wanted to go! We were like a family.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. They are the missing piece in the education reform puzzle. Most people agree that highly effective teachers are the single most powerful tool for inspiring students and turning around low performing schools. But, without a great principal, it's virtually impossible for schools to recruit and retain those teachers. A public school principal wears many hats.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey're expected to cheerlead for new testing standards and data driven decision making, but they're also the first held responsible when the numbers stagnate or go down. They set the tone of a school building. Part teacher and part teacher's boss. Part facilities manager and part safety officer. But, many school systems have had major trouble recruiting and retaining top flight talent in the principal's office. This hour, we're exploring the evolving expectations and emerging research about principals with Kavitha Cardoza, Special Correspondent at WAMU 88.5 News. Kavitha, thank you for joining us.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZAThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Pamela Shetley, Director of the Office of Talent Development and Former Principal in the Prince George's County Public Schools. Pamela Shetley, thank you for joining us.
MS. PAMELA SHETLEYGood afternoon. I'm a big fan of your show.
NNAMDIThank you. And Andy Cole is Former Director of Employee Performance and Development at the Fairfax County Public Schools. Today, he's a Consultant with the Wallace Foundation where he manages a project to develop and retain top quality principals. Andy Cole, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANDY COLEThank you so much for having us.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Kate Rousmaniere, Professor, College of Health, Education and Society at Miami University and author of the book, "The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal." Kate Rousmaniere, thank you for joining us.
MS. KATE ROUSMANIEREThank you. Hello, everybody.
NNAMDIAnd hello back to you. You too can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you have a child in public or charter school? How have you interacted with the principal? You can also send us a tweet at kojoshow. Kavitha, you've been covering local education reform debates for a long time now. And for the bulk of that time, those debates have centered on teachers and student testing. But this week, you told a rather interesting but very sad story about a great principal, and how a school can fall apart with a leadership vacuum.
NNAMDITalk a little bit about what happened at Shaw Middle School at Garnet Patterson.
CARDOZAYou know, it's so true, Kojo, that in the past, principals were seen to be in charge of buses, boilers and books. And that's changed so much. And when I came to D.C., one of the first principals I met was Brian Betz, and he was in charge of Shaw Middle School. And he was dynamic, he was charismatic. These were words that three years after his death, people still talk about. And you could see. I taught there with US Senators, when Harvard professors came down. I mean, this was where it was happening. He was going to change, like he was the face of urban school reform.
CARDOZAHe was gonna change outcomes for these children. And the teachers loved him, the community loved him. So, I remember all that excitement. And fast forward five years. The school is closed. It did not open this academic year because of very low enrollment. And so I wanted to kind of, often when covering education, we look ahead. What's coming up? What's coming up? And I thought, you know what, let's take a look at what happened. Literally, what happened to the school? How did it fall apart?
NNAMDIAnd, of course, we remember that Brian Betz was tragically murdered, and so taken away from that school, but we also remember that while he seemed to create a positive culture at the school, one in which students and parents were all enthusiastic, that was not necessarily reflected in the test scores at that school.
CARDOZANo, it wasn't. Brian -- what the leadership says is that, and what former Chancellor Michelle Reed would say is that first, he has to change the culture of the school, and then we can concentrate on test scores. Brian had a very -- so, a University of Washington study described this very well, Kojo, that principal styles are very different. There are one man bands, and Brian Betz was clearly a one man band. And then they have, some styles are like jazz combos, small teams of leaders. Or you have the orchestral leaders that help large groups of people while letting the soloists shine.
CARDOZAAnd, eventually, people who know him well say, we would have progressed and the test scores would go up. We would have increased enrollment, but when it started, yes, that wasn't there. And some people have criticized Betz for saying, you know, he focused so much on culture, a lot of times children thought they could get away with anything. And, that was just his style.
NNAMDINevertheless, after his death, the school essentially fell apart.
NNAMDIAnd that becomes particularly significant. Pamela Shetley, Andy Cole, the story of Shaw Middle School involved one very talented educator and unique circumstances around a specific neighborhood school, but the stories about that principal do seem to illustrate the things that an effective administrator has to do. They have to inspire students and educators, which can mean standing outside, shaking hands. It demonstrates how progress and momentum can be lost very quickly.
NNAMDIHow does a good principal influence a school, Pamela Shetley?
SHETLEYAnd I'd like to say, first and foremost, I like the two analogies that you provided about the jazz combo and looking at the orchestra, because in Prince George's County Public Schools, it's paramount in our school system to have a collaborative process of shared leadership. So, we capitalize on the strengths in our school system and optimize those folks who can play a vital role in making decisions about instruction. And also contributing to the culture of the building. Most recently, actually, we worked with a national organization to do an audit.
SHETLEYAnd one of the things that they found as a major finding in the audit was that all of the expertise that we needed to make a difference in the lives of children, and instructional programming, rested in the buildings. So, looking at our teachers, our teacher leaders, our supporting services personnel, our business partners and capitalizing on the strengths that they bring to help inform the instructional programs and the decisions and moving the students forward.
NNAMDISo, it really is, as you pointed out, the analogy that Kavitha made, that you were interested in. It really is like putting together an orchestra, and it doesn't all simply rest on the shoulders of the individual leader.
SHETLEYExactly. And we like to coin phrase that as the shared leadership, and mostly takes place in structures where you have a collaboration of folks from all different disciplines and grade levels, and inclusive of the administrative team to do collaborative planning and making decisions that are purposeful.
NNAMDIWhere do you see the principal in that kind of organization, Andy Cole? Everyone recognizes that highly effective teachers are critical, perhaps the most important determinant of whether students learn, and school systems raise their standards. But, the role of the principal is not that self evident. How do you see it?
COLEWell, if you, following on the other two speakers, if you look very closely at what the most critical role in a school is, which is putting a great teacher in front of kids, the principal is the most critical piece of that critical role. Because they're the ones that select the principals, they're the ones that retain principal -- teachers stay where principals are effective in developing vision for where the school should go. Where the impact of the culture is positive, and where they seem to feel that they are effective.
COLESo, if you see a great principal, you're gonna see retention of teachers, and that becomes the most critical role. The district also has a specific role in that, too. Great districts actually provide a focus on what the expectations are of principals, and then provide support to those expectations, and monitor whether or not those expectations are being met. So, those are kind of critical factors, in terms of the principal's role, and the role of the district in supporting the principals.
NNAMDIKate Rousmaniere, we have a lot of images and icons of the principal, and many, if not most, tend to be negative. We get sent to the principal's office. We don't choose to go to the principal's office. Kate, can you teach someone to be a great principal?
ROUSMANIEREYes. I think you can teach someone to be a great principal. My sense of understanding the principalship is a historian, and I've been exploring the history of the principal's role, and how the principal developed out of the ranks of teachers, literally, in the past and in the present. And then moves into a position, who I call a middle manager, in the school system, where the principal sits in the principal office and is the public face of the school, but also works as a connecting hinge between the central office and the classroom.
ROUSMANIERESo, the principal's job is so complicated, as you mentioned earlier, in the program, and has become more complicated over the last century. But all the time, the principal has always been held sort of double faced role as both a community leader and a head teacher. And also as an administrator who connects to the central bureaucracy. So, it's a translation of policy to practice that the principal really needs to know that goes on behind the scenes. And to be able to do that well is what makes a great principal.
CARDOZAI think, Kojo, just to add to that, I think principals give the community, as well as students, a sense of stability, a sense of permanence, a sense that this is the calm you can come to. There are a lot of grades where there's a lot of stuff going -- like middle school grades are a difficult one for children. A lot of our home situations, for a lot of our students, are very chaotic. And when they come to school, the principal helps set the tone from the top. This is a calm, safe environment.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. In case you're just joining us, we're discussing the, well, evolving job of being a public school principal. Are you a teacher? Have you worked for, or worked with, a highly effective principal? Or, perhaps, a less than effective principal? We'd be happy to hear your experience and what you think makes a great principal. Call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Kavitha, where do principals fit in to the national discourse about improving American schools? They have not, it would appear, been the focus of the controversies which have generally involved tests and teachers.
CARDOZAAbsolutely. You're absolutely right, Kojo. I think we have not paid as much attention to principals the way we have teachers, except when there was a survey done, and school leaders said that principals are like the second biggest area of concern. Teachers being the first. Like, teachers can make the biggest difference, but principals, when you see from, like every aspect of the building, every aspect of that child's life, they make a difference in. It's like amazing that we haven't done more research, and we haven't focused enough on this.
SHETLEYAnd if I can add...
SHETLEYIf I can add, there was some research that was done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and they found that there were two distinct categories for principals when they made the decision to leave the profession, and those two were considered to be satisfied within the roles and then all of the nuances of that. And then, of course, those who were dissatisfied. And some of the main reasons that were articulated in the research study that the organization conducted were looking at the same conversation we're having here today.
SHETLEYThe culture of the school, and in some instances, the demographics. Some situations, administrators are under in leadership. They're more heavily impacted by circumstances of poverty and some of the different historical academic failings that a school might have that carry a particular burden and extraordinary challenge for principals. So, what's important to realize are those are the factors that come into play when you look at school leaders when they leave a building.
SHETLEYAnd then also looking at staff proficiency, and also their experiences and the working conditions that, in some urban school settings, can be inferior to other environments.
NNAMDIAndy Cole, you're with the Wallace Foundation where your focus is on training and retaining principals. How do you train?
COLEWell, I wanted to go back to your question, can you teach someone to be a great principal?
COLEAnd I don't think great principals happen by accident. There's a lot of impact...
NNAMDIThey're not born, they're made, huh?
COLEYes, yes. And actually if you -- one of the issues that I think's really important, if you believe that all children can learn than you should have a sense that all adults can develop. And specifically that leaders are -- can be developed. And that's happening in six districts around the country that are taking a very focused look at pipeline and developing a pipeline of high quality principals so that you're not just finding one at a time. That you're actually finding a way to develop people consistently that can move schools, that can help students achieve.
COLEAnd I think that that's a critical element. You find high quality principal providers programs that are capable of developing individuals that can meet the challenges of all different types of schools.
NNAMDIPrince George's County is one of the districts you're talking about.
NNAMDIAnd you've worked, Pamela, with Andy and the Wallace Foundation to bolster your principals. How do you recruit and retain great principals?
SHETLEYWell, first and foremost it actually is a concerted effort across all of the different divisions. And we're recognizing the importance that the role human resources plays into looking at principal recruitment. But more importantly, also looking at all the other different aspects of the role and the support that's provided and the leadership that's there.
SHETLEYWe do have the good fortune right now under the leadership of Kevin Maxwell -- he's actually most recently been identified as the Maryland Superintendent of the Year -- and so a lot of the wealth of information that Dr. Maxwell brings to the school district along with his deputy, Dr. Mooney Davis, help to create an opportunity for us to grow as a district.
SHETLEYWe actually had, prior to their arrival, adopted an administrative procedure where we had a policy that was put into place that talks about the importance of the role of the school principal and the importance of the role of all stakers having an investment in those folks who are determined to be leaders in our school district.
SHETLEYSo that was an added layer of our principal recruitment process and screening and vetting where we include all stakeholders in the school community where there's an anticipated or even announced vacancy, and having them to weigh in and make decisions about what is it that we want in a leader and what we think are important traits that that person should have in our school community and using that as one of the key factors in determining the right fit and the best match for that school community.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We are about to take a short break but you can call us during that break at 800-433-8850. What does a highly effective principal look like to you, 800-433-8850? Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the jobs of school principals and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How long do you think a principal has to stay at a position to lock in success, 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. We're talking with Kate Rousmaniere. She's a professor at the College of Health, Education and Society at Miami University and author of the book "The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal."
NNAMDIAndy Cole is former director of Employee Performance and Development with Fairfax County Public Schools. He's now a consultant with the Wallace Foundation. He manages a project to develop and retain top quality principals. Pamela Shetley is director of the Office of Talent Development. She's a former principal in the Prince George's County Public Schools. And Kavitha Cardoza is WAMU 88.5's special correspondent for education.
NNAMDIKavitha, in many parts of the country an incoming high school freshman can expect to have at least two principals in their four years. A lot of recent research on principals and their impact on school performance has focused on something called principal churn. What is principal churn?
CARDOZAPrincipal churn and burn. It's this kind of revolving door, Kojo, where principals, you know -- and in D.C. we have a lot of it. Between 2008 and 2012 more than a third of DCPS schools had a change in principals. And so you keep changing the leadership at the top, which is really challenging for the rest of the school. Research shows that you need between five and seven years in order to have a beneficial impact on a school as a principal.
CARDOZAAnd so when you do it every year, the staff is kind of unnerved because someone new comes in and you've got to -- you know, whatever their vision is then you have to change. Sometimes staff becomes cynical and think, you know what? You're going to be gone next year anyway. Why do I need to implement this latest, greatest initiative?
NNAMDIThey can just outwait the principal.
CARDOZAExactly. And you have children who come in and every year there's like no sense of stability. Especially like with Shaw Middle School, when you have a principal that so closely identified with the school, then that becomes part of the school's identity. And that helps a lot.
SHETLEYAnd nationally the average turnover rate with the -- in the past few years has been about 30 percent. And a lot of school districts -- well, not a lot, but I would say 25 to 30 percent is pretty natural.
COLEAnd it's interesting that the research talks about three to five years before the impact of a principal actually would take hold. So by the time you've replaced two or three times, you'll have no traction within the school. And the kids are getting hurt. So it's unrealistic to figure out within nine months that somebody has had a major impact on the school and made some changes.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. The number's 800-433-8850. But first I'd like you to meet Jeffrey Holmes. He is the principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in South Laurel. That's in Prince George's County. Jeffrey Holmes, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFFREY HOLMESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJeff, this is your first year as the principal at Dwight D. and your first year as a middle school principal, but you have nine years of experience as a principal at an elementary school. First, apart from I guess the obvious size, what's the biggest difference in the students?
HOLMESWell, the largest difference is working with adolescent students. When you move from a building of elementary-age children to working with adolescents, once of the largest differences that I noticed the first day of school is the adolescent child doesn't speak to you right away.
NNAMDIThey're not standing at the -- when you stand at the front door, they're not rushing up to give you hugs and handshakes.
HOLMESNo, they're not. They're standing off and "sizing you up."
NNAMDIYeah, I remember that experience. And you've taught middle school. How has your perspective about the challenge of educating young people and raising standards, how has that perspective changed overtime?
HOLMESOh, just the challenge just with the increase of accountability has really changed overtime. With the onset of No Child Left Behind now into the Race to the Top and with the new common core state standards, things have been rapidly changing in education. I first became a principal in 2004 and it's much different from when -- from 2004 to 2013.
NNAMDIEducation researchers have written about the dangers of what we were just discussing, principal churn, when principals cycle in and out and end up undermining the culture of the school. You're actually the fourth principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower in four years. How has that kind of churn affected what you're doing?
HOLMESFirst, we have to build trust with the community. That has affected me in building trust with the community and building trust with the students and the staff. And letting them know that we're here to work together and sort of change their mindsets -- helping to change the mindset in the community because it does bring a sense of stability when you have someone here for a period of time. Or once the principal churn turns on, you know, you lose a lot of credibility so to speak with the community. So it has had an effect in that way.
NNAMDIYou know, Kavitha, I hadn't thought about the trust factor before. He says, first you have to start winning their trust. And I related that to the statement he made earlier about the middle school students sizing you up. So you've got to build trust in a variety of different ways.
CARDOZAYou do. And also I think -- there's one parent I met, Kojo. She said in one year, the principal of Shaw changed, the principal of the elementary feeder school changed and the principal of, you know, the high school in the area changed. And she said, when area parents saw three principals gone in one year, it made us all really edgy. We started wondering like, one sec, what is going to happen? And so I think a huge part of it is building trust with the community. And it's hard to do that when you keep changing.
NNAMDIKate Rousmaniere, we just asked Jeff about how the responsibility of principals has changed over the years. You recently wrote an interesting piece in TheAtlantic.com about our evolving expectations and responsibilities placed on principals. How have they shifted?
ROUSMANIEREThey've become more intense. What Jeff talks about as a principal is something that principals have faced for the last 100 years. But the intensity of the role has changed primarily with the expectations coming down from the top. So if the principal sits as a middle manager between the community and central office, a district or the state the expectations from the state have just multiplied in the last ten years.
ROUSMANIEREAnd I think that's sort of a secret -- I think the problem with principal churn is primarily because of those increased expectations. And it's unknown to most people. I think most people look at a principal and say, he's a good principal or she's a good principal. They don't understand the tensions and the expectations that are put on the principal from above. So meanwhile the principal -- Jeff's there trying to greet students at the front door but he's also got a ton of work waiting on his desk that came from his district office.
NNAMDIAndy Cole, how long -- and this question to you too, Pamela Shetley -- how long does a principal have to stay at a school to, well, lock in success?
COLEWell, as I mentioned a little earlier, it's the research...
NNAMDIThat was during the break. The listeners didn't hear that.
COLEOh, the research talks a little bit about three to five years before you actually get traction within a school. Changing a culture doesn't happen in two to three months. It happens overtime. And developing trust, as you know, takes time. So I think the specific focus is how do you begin to develop that when you're getting loads of work that comes from the central office, when policies are changing and when a principal actually decides to do their work after everybody goes home? That type of workload is not sustainable for long periods of time.
NNAMDILet's go to our caller Sal in Annapolis, Md. Sal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALOkay, Kojo. Thank you. I was wanting to share my experience as a -- starting out as a teacher in Prince George's County in the 1970s. I was there for ten years and -- excuse me -- decided to leave to go to medical school. Not because I didn't like teaching anymore but because of an example. I'm going to give you an example of what changed my mind for careers. I was an English teacher then. And so being an English teacher of course you teach everybody. Everybody has to take English. So I ended up having quite a few classes of the lower performance students. And that was okay. That was fine.
SALBut it didn't take me too many years to figure out that the only way I was really going to help these students to do better with reading and writing was if I had them in small groups for longer periods of time. So after a few years in a high school I approached the principal, who I think was a very decent man, and said, you know, let's do this. Give me 15 students at a time. I'll take the worst ones from the other teachers who they don't want to have. And let me have those 15 students for two hours of the day.
SALWell, in doing that I would end up only teaching 45 or so students a day. And so the principal said, you know, Sal. I would love to do that. I definitely see the wisdom in doing that but if I do that I have to go through all sorts of rigmarole and song and dance to get that approved. And I think that all the other teachers would have a fit because they would think that you were getting a special deal and only teaching half as many students as they are.
SALSo I could see that policies were not going to change and I didn't think I could go on and just, in a sense, you know, be less than what it should be as far as helping these kids. So I did something easier. I went to medical school.
NNAMDISal, you underscore one of the points we were discussing earlier, and that is the principal not only has to deal with what's going on in his or her own school. The principal also has to administer policy that's coming from the central office in the school system. So Pamela, Shetley, if we were to look at Prince George's County for instance, what kinds of flexibility can a principal have to implement the kind of innovative approach that Sal apparently wanted? Because he's not only got to consider the policies coming from the central office. He or she has also got to consider how other teachers will respond to that.
SHETLEYWell, in recognition of the demands that are incumbent upon a school leader to make decisions and oftentimes that are selective to their school communities, we have enacted a sight-based management approach. So actually the principal has their own spending allotment for student-based budgeting, so they make strategic decisions about their personnel and the services that they provide.
SHETLEYSo in an instance where they wanted to make targeted decisions about bell times and the use of personnel and staff to target key populations, there's more latitude to do that.
NNAMDIJeff Holmes, we're been hearing about the evolving expectations placed on principals and the challenges of translating abstract concepts into classroom culture and learning. Do you think the job of being principal is different today than it was for you five or nine years ago?
HOLMESOh, yes. It's much different. With -- as Dr. Shetley just mentioned, the student-based budgeting process has also given us -- has given us that flexibility. But again, it also adds to the responsibility of the principal of having to make those staffing decisions in addition to making certain that teachers -- you build teacher capacity in addition to addressing parent concerns.
HOLMESThere's one thing that I say to school districts and school district leaders is that the principalship -- being in the principalship is -- the principal's one job that touches almost every aspect of the school district on a daily basis. So when you walk into a school building you're dealing with the facilities. You're dealing with food and nutrition. You're dealing with human resources. You're dealing with the students. You're dealing with community concerns. So you have -- you're dealing with transportation as the buses pull up and those issues that come with transportation.
HOLMESSo the principal's job is a massive job in that you're dealing -- and those are things that principals have been dealing with for a number of years. But with the -- as was shared earlier, with the mandates coming down from the state and from the federal government with the accountability measures, that's just added to the normal day-to-day operations that principals are responsible for.
NNAMDIHow about your interaction with parents? Has that changed over the years?
HOLMESWell, the interaction with parents has definitely changed. In Prince George's County we implemented a system called the school max family portal. So now parents have more access, more readily available access to their student's grades, to their student's attendance. So that definitely increased some parent concerns when it comes to how well their children are performing in school or if they're children are -- their attendance and things of that nature. So it has increased our interaction with parents and making certain that we are more able to -- we address those concerns as they arrive.
NNAMDIJeff Holmes, thank you so much for joining us.
HOLMESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJeffrey Holmes is principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in South Laurel in Prince George's County. He joined us by telephone. We got a post on our website from Tricia who writes, "I appreciated Ms. Cardoza's story this morning on Shaw Middle School. Principal church is endemic in D.C. Public Schools. My children's destination middle school has had five principals in five years. Principal churn not only undermines schools. It undermines school systems. A principal must be in place for a certain amount of time in order to have respect from higher-ups in the school systems. Principals can serve as boots on the ground for superintendents.
NNAMDIFor example, the common core rollout in D.C. has been underwhelming, to be generous. But because principal tenure is so limited here, principals cannot provide honest feedback to D.C. Public School central less they endanger their jobs resulting in top down policies that may not be actually working in the schools themselves." Is that a complaint you've heard before, Kavitha?
CARDOZAI have certainly heard it that, you know, they're on one-year contracts and the central office does not need to give principals a reason to let them go, and so there definitely is a worry, and I think sometimes teachers feel that principals are micromanaging them because they are so stressed they're kind of passing it on. You know, one of things that struck me about this story Kojo, when I set out to do it, there were certain things I, you know, was expecting.
CARDOZAI was not expecting so much sadness from parents and students and the community. I feel like they believed so much in the school, they trusted, they got involved, they did everything that was asked for them, right? The kids, you know, there was one student whom I interviewed and she said, you know, her brother had no interest in school, and he would go to running to school as well, like, I know this principal.
CARDOZAAnd, you know, after they went onto the next grid she said she, even in her new high school, she would wear her Shaw Middle School t-shirt, she would hang around with kids from Shaw and they were called the Shaw Girls, and she said two years later her -- at least she graduated high school and she's now in college. She said my brother after a year dropped out of school.
NNAMDIJust lost interest.
NNAMDIPamela Shetley, what is the churn rate at Prince George's Public Schools?
SHETLEYWell, heretofore it was roughly around the national average, but most recently with a lot of the work that we've done with our Principal Pipeline work and the Wallace Foundation, last year our rate is roughly about six percent.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about public school principals and how their jobs are evolving. We encourage you to call 800-433-8850. How long do you think a principal should stay at a public school or has to stay in order to be truly effective? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on public school principals with Pamela Shetley, director of the Office of Talent Development, and she's a former principal in Prince George's County Public Schools. Andy Cole is a former director of employee performance and development with Fairfax County Public Schools. He's a consultant with the Wallace Foundation where he manages a project to develop and retain top quality principals. He joins us in studio.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Kate Rousmaniere. She is a professor in the College of Health, Education & Society at Miami University and author of "The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal." And Kavitha Cardoza joins us in studio. She is a special correspondent with WAMU 88.5 News. Kavitha, the name Michelle Rhee still packs a punch in these parts.
NNAMDIThree years after her tenure as Chancellor of DC Public Schools ended, one of the best measures of just how tumultuous that era was, the churn rate of principals. In one school year, more than a third of principals left their position, Kavitha?
CARDOZAAnd between 2008 and 2012, again, that, you know, is reflective of that year. More than a third of DCPS schools had some kind of change in their principal leadership.
ROUSMANIEREAnd this is quite typical across time in other cities. When you have a new superintendent who comes in with a new reform measure, one of the first people to go are the school principals.
NNAMDIWell, when we were talking -- because Andy Cole does a lot of his talking in the breaks. When we were talking in the break, you talked about what the purpose of evaluation is, and the process of how one develops teachers. A lot of research seems to indicate that there's something wrong with the way the American education system trains education professionals to be principals. Talk about that and a little more about the pipeline -- the Principal Pipeline Project.
COLEWell, in the pipeline districts, we've really focused on four buckets. One bucket has to do with, as Pam talked earlier, developing standards and developing what you want from the principals. The other part has to do with developing high quality training programs, and the third has to do with being selective hiring, and the fourth, evaluation and support. In many cases, people are replacing that support with firing people. That becomes a trendy issue, but no industry has ever fired its way to success.
COLEThe focus of the -- of a performance evaluation is really to support and to provide performance feedback to the individual. If you're there for a year and you're turning over, how much support and how much feedback have you gotten? And then conversely, how well have you been trained and prepared for the work that you're trying to do? In many cases, people haven't been prepared adequately, and then they're thrown to the wolves.
COLEI think what's happening in Prince George's and the five other districts that are part of the Pipeline Project is that there's a real focus on a systemic approach to developing people and supporting them. So that they're -- if you heard the churn rate is down to six percent and probably going to go lower, that, in fact, is a result of the front end. So on the front end they know what they want, and they know how to develop it, and then they know it when they see it to hire it, and they know how to support it. And those things then provide a much more structurally sound process for developing principals and, in fact, then impacting the schools.
NNAMDIKate Rousmaniere, you say the expectations placed on principals are often in conflict with one another. How so?
ROUSMANIEREWell, I think principals are required to think about the community and be the principal at the office welcoming students and to have a personal relationship with students and with parents. That's what we remember from our own principals, and yet they also have this job coming down from above to mandate sometimes very stressful and high-stakes testing, to cut budgets, to manage a school in a certain way that prevents the kind of change that communities want. And so again, they're torn between what they're being told from above, and what they would like to see from below.
NNAMDIAnd I think that's what Erik in Washington DC would like to talk about on the phone. Erik, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERIKHi. Well, after seeing the DC Public Schools from the standpoint of a teacher and union representative, it's become more clear, especially in the last few years that the administration is creating expectations of principals that forces them into conflict with not just teachers and counselors and so on, but also literally with the time available to actually meet these objectives. And so, you know, another -- an example is DC Public Schools entering into a contract with this Flamboyan Foundation to require teachers to literally, you know, principals and teachers to violate the contact the teachers have to visit homes after -- during their free time, work hours, after work hours and on weekends.
ERIKAnd so how do you then create, you know, the type of collaborative working relationship when all these demands come down and meetings after meetings after meetings that very often are just, you know, of little value to improving education, and yet they're expected. They're evaluated on the basis of meeting these objectives which are very easily checked off.
CARDOZAErik, I just wanted to say as an aside, I do agree with you. Often these objectives are in conflict. There certainly doesn't seem to be enough time to achieve them all. With the Flamboyan Foundation, I know it because I spent a lot of time working on a story, the teachers are not forced to do it. They are paid extra for their work, and all the teachers I met, of which there are several, said that it has helped them enormously because part of the puzzle that was missing was the parents.
CARDOZAFor years in public schools we told parents, you know what, we know better -- we know what's best for your children, leave them on the door and we'll do the rest. And only now we're realizing how important parents are. So I have not heard that.
NNAMDIPamela Shetley -- oh, you were about to say...
SHETLEYI was ready to add to that, and it's interesting, and my comment is twofold because when you talk to educators and you look at the recent research around teacher flight, and one of the sole factors -- the primary factor in the decision that teachers make in change of profession or even change of buildings is looking at the leadership in the building.
SHETLEYSo that's always a primary factor. People think that it's money, but when you look at the current data around teacher attrition and folks moving out of the profession, it's around the type of leadership. But I also wanted to go back to the caller's comments. One of the things -- and not that we're perfect, because we're certainly learning a lot and -- and making some lessons -- capitalizing on lessons learned, is when we developed, as Andy had mentioned, a framework for our Principal Pipeline and how he we look at instruction in our leaders, when we developed our systemic framework under the standards, and we call them the leader standards, we in fact included the stakeholders who would be our administrators, in some instances a small lot of teachers, but most importantly our unions.
SHETLEYSo our bargaining unit was at the table with us when we developed the leader standards and also approved them. And looking at the input of national organizations with the tried and true practices and the research standings such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Maryland Statement Department of Education, the National Association of Elementary and Secondary Principals, so those organizations who have a sense and their pulse on the national perspective and the agenda around principal support and development.
SHETLEYBut then drilling down, not only through the standards, but as Andy has talked about, what those expectations are, and they manifest themselves in indicators that are used for evaluation, and they're not seen as punitive, but as points of data so that we can grow them to be stronger leaders.
COLEYeah. If you...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Andy.
COLEIf you move that as a thread that moves through all the work, if you say that you're developing standards and those standards say this is what we want from a principal, and that thread runs through everything else, you're going to get a consistent performance. But when it's a surprise, you know, so you're evaluated and there's a secret -- it's not secret, but it's not -- it's different standards than what you were hired from...
SHETLEYIt's not transparent, right.
COLE...and it's transparent, then that becomes incredibly difficult for a person to be able to help and develop themselves. And the second piece out of the caller is that these jobs are very difficult. The principal's job is extremely difficult. They need to build teams, and those teams within the school have to do with instructional leaders with the school, teacher leaders, as well as their administrative team. So one of the challenges for a principal, is the ability to develop relationships, to develop teams, to develop teams of parents, teams of actually students, teams of instructional leaders so that the whole organization is a learning organization and not just an organization that is focused on learning.
CARDOZAIn DC, Kojo, there were evaluations that were kind of -- we heard about evaluations. About half of DCPS principals were rated developing. That's one step above ineffective, and only 14 percent were rated highly effective.
NNAMDIKate Rousmaniere, in the current debate about education reform, principals are often the first to go when test scores do not go up or when other problem signs emerge. But you point out that the job itself is increasingly disconnected from the classroom.
ROUSMANIEREMm-hmm. Yes. It has changed completely. I mean, we still -- we, meaning we here in the studio and also, I think, District leaders and parents and students, still have an image of principals from the 1950s. They think the principal is a certain kind of steady job, but in fact the job has changed immensely as we've heard from some of these principals on the phone. And for me the changes come from above, and I'd just like to take a stand and hold District leaders and state and national leaders responsible for principal churn.
ROUSMANIEREThey are ones who have added these new expectations and new requirements on principals, often before they even know they're coming, and those are the -- some of the elements on which principals are evaluated at the same time that the community and the students and the parents want principals to hold their traditional jobs. So it's just intensifying what the principal has to go through.
NNAMDIWell, Kate, right now, the Wallace Foundation and school systems like Prince George's County are looking at ways of further professionalizing the discipline. What does that mean to you and when did the push to professionalize this vocation begin from a historic perspective?
ROUSMANIERERight. That began in the early twentieth century with the development of the principal's office. It began in places like my education school where we professors began to think there's more to this job than being just a teacher who knows how to fill out administrative forms. And so we have a principal preparation program in my college, somewhat like the St. George's example. It's a community-based principal preparation program, which is good. It helps principals learn -- aspiring principals learn how to work in their own district.
NNAMDIThe Pipeline does the same kind of thing in this area. Prince George's County is looking at doing the same kind of thing. What kind of responses have you been getting from principals?
SHETLEYI think it goes back to the comment that was made earlier about the transparency, because now with our leader standards, what we're doing is using those as the anchor to embed and also frame all of our professional development around the leader standards, and so that not only is it a mechanism to give feedback on your growth as an administrator, but also we use it as the crux of how we develop our professional development opportunities that we provide.
SHETLEYRight now we're in the initial stages of that. We in fact asked principals to evaluate their professional development, and it has been resoundingly positive, and in instances where there are requests for amendments or decisions where other types of professional development are being needed, we have made those adjustments accordingly.
ROUSMANIEREI think those are really important programs, and I have to say that over the years, the last 50 years, people have excoriated principal preparation programs. They say that they're soft, they're lazy, they're not intellectual, and in fact, they are fantastic. They are the only way that someone can prepare to become a principal is by working with other aspiring principals and leaders in preparing for that work.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time, but Douglas in Fairfax, Va., do you think that that's what's needed?
DOUGLASYeah, I do. And I appreciate the conversation that has gone on today. You know, one of the things I think that we always universally agree upon is that victory is in the classroom, and that the most important conversation that occurs in a school is the conversation that occurs that between a teacher and a student. And with that in mind, I think that this Pipeline Project is quite fascinating in a systemic nature.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have, Douglas, unfortunately. Kate Rousmaniere, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAndy Cole, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIPamela Shetley, thank you for joining us.
SHETLEYGlad to be here.
NNAMDIKavitha Cardoza, always a pleasure.
CARDOZAAlways a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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