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leadership principals

6 districts going the distance to help principals


A major principal initiative has yielded impressive results after 4 years.

Four years into a massive Wallace Foundation effort to help six large urban school districts improve their principal pipelines, an independent study reveals all districts have made impressive strides in helping principals strengthen leadership and classroom instruction.

The report on the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative notes that novice school principals directly benefit from improved quality of their training, hiring, evaluations, mentoring and other support during their crucial first years on the job.

In fact, district superintendents and school leaders were so committed to the training program’s success that benefits were quick to come.

“To a striking extent, all six districts carried out the kinds of policies and practices called for by the Principal Pipeline Initiative,” said lead author Brenda Turnbull of Policy Studies Associates, the group that conducted the study. “The result has been that both superintendents and novice principals are already reporting changes for the better.”

(Next page: Key report findings and strategies to boost school leadership)

In interviews with the study team, superintendents and other district leaders said principal candidates were showing leadership strengths, especially in improving instruction. Surveys of novice principals also showed that over time, a higher percentage of new principals said that their skills were an “excellent” fit for their schools’ needs.

A key finding was that as districts shifted the focus from administrative compliance to helping principals succeed as instructional leaders, principal supervisors took on important responsibilities of on-the-job evaluation and support for principals.

Much of the districts’ success lies in their ability to strengthen the four key parts of principal pipelines:
• Defining and actively using job standards that anchor preparation programs, hiring and evaluations
• Reshaping pre-service preparation through new or revamped in-house programs and partnerships with other providers, including internships
• Tightening hiring by requiring candidates to demonstrate skills, creating talent pools and using data to match principals with the right schools
• Providing new evaluations and better on-the-job support through mentors, coaches and the revamped principal supervisor role

“This report is something of a milestone, first because it confirms that districts can successfully implement meaningful changes in a complex system of hiring and developing leaders, and second because the resulting principal pipelines quickly produce benefits for both districts and principals,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “The work of these six large urban districts offers important lessons for other districts across the country that want to prepare and place effective principals in all their schools.”

The report is the fifth and final implementation report from the initiative, which launched in August 2011. The multi-year evaluation is being conducted by Policy Studies Associates and the RAND Corporation.

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