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Early-Career, Pre-K, Technology Are Themes of Principals' Conference

Nashville

About 1,800  people— including elementary, middle-school principals and other school leaders— are here in Nashville for the annual conference of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Under the banner "Best Practices for Better Schools," this year's conference is heavy on seminars and workshops to help principals adapt to the multitude of changes and responsibilities that have become part of the job over the last few years as a result of reform efforts, and changes to state, federal, and local education policies.

"We really wanted to focus on the reality of what's happening with—and for—principals," Gail Connelly, NAESP's executive director, said of the three-day event, which runs through Saturday.

"It's a constant barrage of reforms, and without always giving [principals] adequate time and resources they need to implement [them] effectively," Ms. Connelly said. "That's a big part of what's creating what I would call almost a 'pressure cooker' feeling all across the country on the part of principals.  They are working as hard as they ever have, and working longer hours—some of them are working 70, 80 hours a week. They are working and trying really, really hard to meet the ever increasing levels of accountability. At the same time, we are seeing the shrinking of resources to the lowest levels that they've been. It creates a kind of perfect storm situation: We are expecting more, and we are giving them less in terms of the resources to be able to make it happen."

Instructional leadership is the cornerstone of this year's conference. While a number of the seminars address a host of important contemporary education issues—the Common Core State Standards, closing the achievement gap, school climate, and principal evaluations, among them—the NAESP wanted to highlight new and early-career principals, pre-K-3 alignment, and technology—particularly understanding and using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

The workshops also reflect some of the NAESP's current priorities.

The special attention on pre-K-3 alignment and support for early childhood principals, for example, comes as the NAESP is expected to launch new pre-K learning standards to bridge the gap between pre-K providers and elementary schools. And the emphasis on early-career principals follows the launch of the National Panel of New Principals, which tracks a group of about 400 new principals and provides them with professional support during their first years on the job. The NAESP also gets critical feedback from the principals through regular surveys on their perceptions and challenges.

Given recent changes in the field, new principals will need more support than their predecessors, Ms. Connelly said.

"We are putting a major focus on how we can better serve principals as early in their careers as possible because we want them to be successful, and we know that the growing pressures of the job have encouraged many of them to leave somewhat prematurely," Ms. Connelly said. "We want to do everything we can to help them be successful in their jobs and to grow their capacity so that, obviously, our schools, our teachers, our children, our parents have the best quality leadership they can have. Again, the research is clear: [The] principals' role is vital, and they need all the help they can get from an organization like ours."

The NAESP will also launch "The Principals Perspective,"  a collaboration with British-based ITN Productions, which will look at the impacts of recent reform efforts and rule changes. The program will have its world premiere on Thursday night. (More to come on that later.)

Conference speakers and presenters include former U.S.  Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as well as Milton Chen, a senior fellow and the former executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

The group is also expected to officially pass on the leadership torch. It will formally present Mark J. White, the principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wis., as its 2014 president, and Robyn M. Conrad Hansen, a principal of Playa Del Rey Elementary School in Gilbert, Ariz., as the president-elect. Their terms began July 1.

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