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From the Principal Files: The Principal Shortage -- What Can Schools Do to Attract a New Generation of School Leaders?

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Education World asked our "Principal Files" principals to suggest some ideas that might help grow the shrinking pool of qualified school leaders. Today, we share their responses! Included: Read their replies -- some common sense, others provocative!

"The Correlates of Effective Schools research found that the principal was the single most-important contributing factor to the success of an effective school," Alan Seay, principal at Iowa Park (Texas) High School, told Education World. "That's why it's critical for schools to be able to attract good people to the principalship -- and to keep them there."

How can school systems make the principal's job more manageable? How can they attract educators who might make exceptional principals? Education World posed those questions recently to our Principal Files principals. They had plenty of ideas -- common sense ideas and provocative ones too!

Did you miss yesterday's Education World article, The Principal Shortage -- Why Doesn't Anybody Want the Job? In that story, Education World P-Files principals shared their thoughts about the reasons for the principal shortage. They discussed many of the important issues school principals face today. Not surprisingly, those issues also happen to be some of the biggest obstacles to recruiting educators who might consider administration!


Raising salaries for school administrators is a must if schools are to make the principalship more attractive to a new generation of school leaders. "Increased pay would send a message that society values the work of the principal," Chris Rose, principal at Plymouth School in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia (Canada), told Education World.

More Ideas for Attracting Principals

The Education World "Principal Files" principals have plenty of ideas for countering the principal shortage. Following are a handful of their unique suggestions:

Reconfigure the school day. Currently, principals are accountable for involving their staff as stakeholders, keeping them informed, engaging them in creative thinking, and holding them responsible for implementing the vision. Time is provided for teaching, but there is no time to accomplish those group tasks. Reworking the school day so teachers work an eight-hour day would create time to do that.
    -- Lyn McCarty, Grant Joint Union High School District, Sacramento, California

Educate lawmakers. Somebody needs "to enlighten lawmakers about the personnel and financial ramifications" of the laws they pass. So often laws are passed without any thought for those ramifications and how they impact principals, teachers, and other school personnel.
    -- Ernest Elliott, Hacker Middle School, Mountain Home, Idaho

Set staff-to-administrator ratios. We often hear about the benefits of smaller class size, especially in the early grades. How about school-size standards for administrators? A pupil-to-administrator ratio, or a staff-to-administrator ratio, would be helpful.
    -- Jon Romeo, Bradford Elementary School, Westerly, Rhode Island

Set school-size standards. Mandate a maximum school size, not to exceed 300 or so students, to make schools more personal.
    -- Lucie Boyadjian, Glen Oaks School, Hickory Hills, Illinois

Allow more leverage in staffing decisions. Unions make terminating teachers who perform poorly very difficult. If principals are accountable for poor performance, they need to be able to hold teachers accountable. School boards need to support principals in getting rid of marginal teachers.
    --Alan Seay, Iowa Park (Texas) High School

Add support staff. Additional staff members -- such as social workers and school counselors -- are needed to assist with the diverse student population.
    -- Lucie Boyadjian, Glen Oaks School, Hickory Hills, Illinois

Organize better. Principals need to do a better job of organizing. They need a loud collective voice to draw attention to the critical role principals play as instructional leaders.
    -- Anonymous principal

"I know salary does not make a good leader, much less a great leader," said Betty Peltier, principal at Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana, "but teachers with leadership ability see the long hours and the extent of the principal's job and opt for other avenues of leadership. Each year, the gap between the principal's salary and the teacher's salary narrows."

The principal shortage might be a good thing, according to principal Anthony Pallija Jr. "It's nice to be in demand for a change!" he said. "We are the CEOs of our buildings," Pallija, principal at North Canton Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio, told Education World. "We run million-dollar schools, with hundreds of staff and thousands of students, parents, and community members."

Pallija's point: Principals ought to be compensated more like the CEOs they are!

"All three levels of government -- federal, state, and local -- need to make a concerted effort to raise the compensation of principals so that it is competitive with that of other mid-level managers," added Alan Seay.

"It's about time educators started getting the kind of pay that athletes do," said Nancy Ondrasik, assistant principal at Beatty Warren Middle School in Warren, Pennsylvania. "We train the children; then they look up to athletes who engage in all the types of behavior that we have trained them not to do! And who gets the big money?"

Revising job descriptions so school secretaries become office managers and raising their salaries is one solution several P-Files principals advocated. "That would relieve the principal of much of the administrative trivia that crowds the desk each day," suggested Helene Dykes, principal at Tijeras Creek Elementary, in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.

Raising the salaries of support staff is just the first step, however. The P-Files principals see many other ways school districts and states can help relieve the principal shortage.


A big problem many school principals face is what Sue Maguire calls the "lone ranger" conditions of the job. Principals are often on their own in their schools, with few opportunities to communicate and commiserate with fellow principals about job issues. That is one reason Maguire recently left her Washington principalship to pursue another career path.

Having a co-principal, somebody to bounce ideas around with and share day-to-day trials with, might help relieve some of the isolation of the job, Maguire commented. Hiring a co-principal would also help lighten the workload.

"There really should be two people in every school where there is now one principal," said Lolli Haws, principal at Avery Elementary School, in Webster Groves, Missouri. "In schools where there are assistant principals, elevate them to an equal status with principals and let them be in charge of curriculum and instruction or student services."

School districts also need to provide more growth and support opportunities once principals are on the job, added Tim Messick. Principals need to know they aren't alone and that others are having the same kinds of experiences they are having, he said.

"School districts need to offer in-service workshop and conference opportunities so administrators will continue to share and grow in their professional knowledge," said Messick. "Districts need to provide training in developing teamwork and co-leadership models that will help create a positive and supportive school environment."


"Administrative preparatory programs at many local universities are not adequate," Marie Kostick, principal at Goodwyn Junior High School, in Montgomery, Alabama, told Education World. "Those programs place too much emphasis on theory and not enough on practical applications and challenges."

Many universities are adding mentoring components to their programs as a way to provide much-needed practical experience to better prepare principals for the demands of the job.

Future school administrators should have the opportunity "to step into assistant or associate positions in which they can work closely for a year with a school administration team in order to gain insight and knowledge about their chosen field," added Tim Messick.

Former principal Susan Maguire is now a personal and executive coach. "I help busy professionals -- including many school principals and other school personnel -- find balance and satisfaction in their everyday lives," she told Education World. "I believe graduate schools need to build resiliency components into their principal preparation programs," Maguire added.


As a number of other systems are, the Montgomery, Alabama, school district is taking the principal shortage seriously. This fall, according to Marie Kostick, the district introduced its own mentoring program, called the Principal's Leadership Academy. Courses are open to present principals, assistant principals, and administrative assistants (aspiring principals) in the district.

Did you see yesterday's story about the principal shortage? Click on the headline below to read Part 1 of this series: The Principal Shortage -- Why Doesn't Anybody Want the Job?

"Some school districts in Idaho are 'growing their own,' " added Ralph Lowe, principal at Kellogg High School. "They recruit young, promising teachers in their systems; encourage them to get their degrees; offer them internship opportunities; and then hire them as assistant administrators."

Once an administrator is hired, however, the support needs to continue. "Principals are under so much pressure to create a school culture that promotes academic excellence," said a principal who asked to remain anonymous. "I have no objection to that pressure except to say that the principal is the middle manager who often gets lost in the crunch. Principals need the same support from superiors they are expected to give their staffs.

"Research shows that the number-one reason teachers leave the profession is that they feel administrators don't back them up," that principal added. "I submit that the same is true of many principals."

Boards of education should join professional organizations, such as ASCD, which provides publications and books, the principal added. "Boards and superintendents should also support principals' attending national conventions where they may attend workshops and exchange ideas -- in other words, treat them as professionals by supporting their growth."

"The overwhelming responsibility of this job creates a feeling of isolation," said Betty Luckett, principal at Oakes Elementary School, in Okemah, Oklahoma. "Our state and national administrators associations must make an ongoing effort to create networking opportunities among principals.


Principals, like teachers, are unusually selfless people. If they weren't, why would they stick around and deal with all the negatives aspects of the job?

"I got into educational administration to help improve schools and make a bigger difference in children's lives," said one principal. "If I had wanted to be a businessman in an office doing paperwork, I would have gone into the private sector and made a heck of a lot more money than I'm making now."

Principal Lucie Boyadjian summed up the feelings of most of the Education World P-Files principals: "[Principals] are committed to kids. If we didn't love this job, we wouldn't be doing it. We are a different breed."

Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Related Articles from Education World

  • Principals Identify Top Ten Leadership Traits
  • Decisions, Decisions! A Week in the Life of a Principal (5 Part Series)
  • From the Principal Files: If You Had a Choice, Would You Still Be a Principal?
  • Follow The Leader: School Principals In Training!
  • Help Wanted: Qualified Principals

    Originally published 11/01/2000
    Last updated 09/28/2005