Understanding principal turnover
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
This month, I will complete my 13th year as a principal in the same New Hampshire high school. I’ve seen an entire generation of students complete their K-12 education in my system.
According to the Learning Policy Institute, I am in a category with very few others — only 11% of principals nationwide have been in the same school for more than a decade. Last June, in a MultiBriefs article, I wrote about an Arkansas principal who was retiring after 48 years of service to his district!
For me, this is about the time of the year when some of my teachers will come to me and ask me if I am planning to leave the school at the end of the year. “If you leave, I leave!” is a common phrase I hear from them. The truth is, I’m not looking to leave.
I have a high level of job satisfaction, and I am excited to go to work every day in an effort to work with my team and my staff to make a difference for the 700 students that we serve. I wish more of my principal colleagues could feel the same way about their school and their situation.
Principal turnover is a serious issue. Last month, the National Association for Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released this research brief to help educators understand and address principal turnover. NASSP identified the following common reasons why principals leave their jobs:
- Inadequate preparation and professional development
- Poor working conditions
- Insufficient salaries
- Lack of decision-making authority
- High-stakes accountability policies
This turnover can greatly impact student achievement, which impacts student earning potential later in life: "A 10% reduction in principal turnover in high-poverty districts — where 27% 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 NASSP, the highest turnover is seen with high-poverty schools. In one study in Florida, principal turnover rates were at 28% versus 18% in higher poverty schools. That same trend was found in Philadelphia, with a ratio of 33% to 24%.
When tracking where principals go, it is often the case that principals leaving high-poverty schools move to schools with fewer high-poverty students. It was also noted that principals left schools with greater numbers of students of color at higher rates than schools with fewer students of color.
Lastly, NASSP reported that, on average, principals working in academically struggling schools were more likely to move to another school or leave the profession.
To combat turnover, the NASSP report recommended the following strategies be implemented:
- Develop high-quality professional development opportunities for principals.
- Improve working conditions that influence principals’ satisfaction with their role.
- Provide compensation for principals that is commensurate with the responsibilities of the position.
- Provide principals with more autonomy and greater decision-making authority in school decisions.
- Reform accountability systems to support principals in their efforts to improve student learning.
Principals, you need to be able to advocate for yourselves in your school districts for these things.
If you can’t do this alone, band together with others in your district or neighboring districts. Doing so could start to reverse this trend and provide our schools and our students with much-needed stability on school leadership for years to come.
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