The impact of stable school leadership
Monday, June 04, 2018
When the school year comes to a close this month, one Arkansas school will have big shoes to fill at its helm, as longtime Southside High School Principal Wayne Haver has his final curtain call after 36 years in the role as principal and 48 years of service to the district as a whole.
In this local newspaper article out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, reporter Alex Golden talked at length about Haver’s impact in all aspects of school programming, from its early days with mascot changes to his more recent efforts to introduce technology into the school and act as the school’s biggest cheerleader at concerts, events and athletic contests.
It is no small task to acknowledge just how much of an impact Haver had in his 36 years as principal, yet it was a quote from one of the students at his school that may have found the best way to acknowledge it.
Senior Casey Gooden was quoted as saying this about Haver: "Finding a high school principal who will be in it for the long haul, who will take ownership of a school, make sure that things get delivered as they should be and take it as a personal mission to make sure that that school is successful — I don’t want to say it’s a scarcity, but not everybody is up to that — but Wayne Haver has been up to it and he’s done it for all of those years."
Without question, Haver is an exception to the rule. He represents a rare breed of school principals that continue to stay loyal to their school communities and buck the alarming trend of principal turnover that is plaguing many school communities in this country.
In a 2014 article, Education Week cited a report that found that a quarter of our country’s schools see principal turnover each year, and nearly 50 percent of all school principals leave a school by the end of their third year. That same report estimates that principal turnover costs districts an average of $75,000 per individual.
The article then dives deeper, looking at how principal turnover can impact student achievement, which impacts student earning potential later in life: "A 10 percent reduction in principal turnover in high-poverty districts — where 27 percent of principals leave their schools annually — along with an increase in principal effectiveness, could add $30,024.07 to a student's lifetime earning potential, according to the report. Without that frequent turnover, students in a 72,000-student district would have contributed $469 million in taxable earnings to local tax collectors, according to the report."
The impact of principal turnover doesn’t stop at student achievement. According to this National Education Policy Center article, other impacts for a school include higher teacher turnover rates as well as financial costs. Perhaps the greatest impact is that high principal turnover often leads to a plateau in a school’s ability to innovate.
When principals leave, teachers become reluctant to embrace new ideas and initiatives for fear that they will not be sustained if and when the principal leaves. They, in turn, opt to "wait it out" to see if in fact the principal position will become stable before embracing new ideas or initiatives.
I have firsthand experience with this. My New Hampshire school district is considered a national leader in competency-based learning. Our work to transform our schools to this model has been ongoing for nearly a decade.
During that time, our administrator turnover rate has been close to zero. I’m finishing my eighth year as principal at my school, with 12 years of service as a school administrator there. My school community has come to rely on the consistency that a stable leadership team can bring in order to drive our innovative work for tomorrow.
In this Hechinger Report article, journalist Peg Tyre tries to understand why so many principals leave after such a short tenure. She did this by following then-new Louisiana school principal Krystal Hardy as she navigated her first year on the job. She discovered, through Hardy’s experiences, that school principals have a demanding job that has seen a shift in recent years away from "building manager" towards "instructional leader."
Generations ago, the principal’s primary responsibilities were budget, policy, and human resources. Today’s principals spend a significant amount of their time in classrooms working alongside teachers with a laser focus on instruction and student achievement.
Yet, many of the "management" tasks have not gone away. Today’s principals juggle an ever-increasing number of tasks in order to meet the demands of their school communities. It is a demanding job, and it takes brave educators with a passion for the work to make it happen.
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