The Great American Principal Turnover–And How Districts Can Stop the Churn

Recently, I read an article by Matthew Clifford and Eva Chiang titled “The Great American Principal Turnover — And How Districts Can Stop the Churn”.  The premise behind this writing focuses on a trend that is quite alarming.  Fascinating, yet concerning, this article highlights the rate at which administrators and leaders are leaving their positions. The motivations and reasons for such turnover is unique and interesting.

Just as we are all too aware, headlines announcing a change in leadership within an educational community have become such the norm. Clifford and Chiang stress the damaging effects not just on a school or division, but on an entire community.

At any given time, the headlines of a local or state publication discusses these administrative changes, truly at alarming rates. “According to the 2012-2013 principal staffing survey from the US Department of Education, over 20 percent of principals left their schools and over 70 percent of principals have less than five years at their current schools.” What is going on? Is there any rhyme or reason for these trends?

While reading Clifford and Chiang’s article, I found myself nodding my head in disbelief at the sheer magnitude of this educational dilemma.  I have been in the educational community for 27 years in numerous and varying roles. I have witnessed this issue evolve, morph, and grow into the creature it is today. We must define the underlying causes and start developing resolutions.

It was with peaked interest that I was intrigued by Clifford and Chiang thoughts or remedies for the alarming trend in education. They discuss how they believe a “systematic approach to managing principal talent is imperative to reducing turnover.” Their plan encompassed five ideas that seemed rational and reasonable; even sensible to facilitate the endeavor “to hire, retain, and develop” administrators in education.  The five underlying principles to their approach were: “Hire for Now and the Future’ Principal Induction, Manage Expectations, Give Autonomy, and Get Creative on the Perks.” Could it really be that simplistic and be effective? I certainly hope so. Realistically, I know that each of those five guiding steps are complex and vary greatly from one school or individual to the next.

Sometimes, I feel that we over think and overreact in education. Our opinions and practices, like the educational pendulum, swing from one side to the other. In my opinion, Clifford and Chiang are on the right track. Even though the implementation of their plans make take many forms and fashions, the underlying principles are the same. This alarming trend of principal turnover needs our attention and should take precedence.


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