6 Ways to Recruit Great Leaders as Principals

August 4, 2014

We spend a lot of time talking about teacher effectiveness because, after all, teachers directly instruct and assess students. But what about the effectiveness of principals? Often overlooked, principals play a vital role in developing a positive learning environment for students. However, long hours, low pay, and demanding work does not make this an attractive career option for many. How can we make sure our districts are hiring, training, and retaining effective school leaders?

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute held a panel event on Thursday to unveil its latest report, which outlines weaknesses in principal recruitment, selection, and placement, and offers suggestions for improvement. 

Among the key recommendations of the report are:

  1. Make the job more appealing—and manageable. 
  2. Pay great leaders what they are worth. 
  3. Take an active approach to recruitment. 
  4. Evaluate candidates against the competencies and skills demonstrated by successful principals.
  5. Design the placement process to match individual schools’ needs with particular candidates’ strengths.
  6. Continually evaluate hiring efforts.

The report is certainly correct to identify the six factors above as potentially effective changes. But how might a district actually implement these suggestions? And are there any districts that do these things already?

Some of Thursday’s panelists shared best practices from their work experiences, mentioning effective recruitment strategies, training programs, matching approaches, and evaluation methods that they use in their districts.

Two panelists mentioned partnering with colleges and universities to create a talent pipeline for principals. Mike Miles, Superintendent of Dallas Independent School District (ISD), and Douglas Anthony, Executive Director of Talent Development at Prince George’s County Public Schools both said their districts have successfully used this hiring practice.

Further, Miles referenced Dallas ISD’s “School Leaders Academy,” a full-year, full-time, paid training program for aspiring principals. Each year, the district accepts up to 60 school leaders who, upon graduating from the program, are able to compete for up to 60 principal positions.

Anthony discussed the strategic placement process that Prince George’s County Public Schools practices when matching principals with schools. He referred to it as a “baseball card” system, where the district matches principal cards with school cards in order to forge successful partnerships. Principal cards list candidates’ strengths, determined from extensive interviewing, while school cards list institutions’ needs, determined from community-wide surveys.

Finally, Miles explained Dallas ISD’s new principal evaluation system, which is based on demonstrated performance and student achievement. Principals work closely with executive directors, who are a constant presence in schools and are thus truly able to constructively evaluate principal performance. Student achievement is measured using three different metrics, with only the most favorable measure influencing principal compensation. 

Together, the report and the shared best practices demonstrate huge potential for growth in how school districts recruit, select, place, and evaluate principals. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bridget Mullen is a senior at Georgetown University and an intern at the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce.