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Report: Urban Districts Can Improve Principal Recruitment, Support

School districts can take steps to improve the quality of leadership in their schools by ensuring that principals are well-trained when they're hired and fully supported once they're in schools, says a new report on principals from the Wallace Foundation.

The report's aim is "to really center on the district as the locus of change," said Jody Spiro, the director of education leadership at the New York City-based foundation, which also supports coverage of leadership, arts education, and extended and expanded learning time in Education Week.

"It's close enough to the ground that you're really engaged deeply with schools—principals and kids—and can really make things happen," she added. "And yet it's a much bigger impact than focusing on the school level."

A "well-crafted district strategy to promote better school leadership" is important, the report says, because "effective principals offer perhaps the surest route to effective teaching.

Among the strategies for districts that the report highlights: making hiring needs and standards clear to candidates and preparation programs; having formative, clear principal evaluations; supporting and training principals' supervisors; and providing mentoring and access to useful data for leaders on the job. Generally, districts should have clear and comprehensive school leadership plans, the report says.

While many districts are doing pieces of this work, no one urban district has a fully comprehensive strategy that addresses each of these pieces, Spiro said.

The report suggests that there are still unanswered questions about how all of these initiatives will work in the long term, and acknowledges that building leadership capacity can require tough budget decisions. But, it says, thoughtful, coherent strategies at the district level are likely to make a difference while haphazard or isolated strategies will likely fall short.

The report includes examples of work from around the country, especially from six school districts that are part of Wallace's Principal Pipeline initiative: New York City; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Denver; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Prince George's County, Md. There are also interesting tidbits from districts around the country. Gwinnett County is creating a "consumers' guide" to leadership programs around Atlanta; while Boston, New York, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Chicago have all used district leadership standards to guide hiring. A new evaluation system in Hillsborough County is profiled.

There's also an interview with Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer of the New York City department of education, who talks about how the district has worked on finding those teachers who want to be principals. He also describes how increased principal accountability and autonomy have gone hand in hand in New York.

Spiro told me that one of the other main pieces here—one that's less emphasized in the report—is helping to create as much time as possible for principals to concentrate on instruction, whether by reducing out-of-school meetings or delegating clearly to assistant principals.

Not done reading about principals? Here's an article about a recent report on principals from the Bush Institute and a report from yesterday's National Association of Elementary School Principals conference.

Want to keep up with school district and leadership news? Follow @district_doss on Twitter.

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