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December 14, 2007

A principal problem

In my story today, I write about a new study that found middle schools with the greatest needs in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties had the least experienced principals and suffer from high turnover among principals.

The study was done by the Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit. It looked at middle schools with the highest poverty rates and lowest test scores in the three jurisdictions. It made several disturbing revelations:

In Baltimore City alone, nine of the 10 middle schools that the study examined had at least one change in principal --- and eight of them experienced two or more changes --- from 2003 to 2007. Half of the schools had three or more new principals during that time.

In Baltimore County, where 10 of the district's 27 middle schools were examined, half had at least one change in principal and 20 percent had two or more changes during the five-year period.

And nearly 80 percent of the middle schools evaluated in Prince George's County had at least one change in principal, and one school went through five principals, in the five years.

Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore had four principals during the study's period, while Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County has had three.

While some may quibble with whether bonuses are the answer, most everyone agrees that turning around a failing school takes energy and time --- and commitment. The bottom line, it seems, is that school systems need to give the leaders of its most challenging schools a reason to stick around long enough to make a difference.

Or, as Terrylynn Tyrell, the ACY's education director, put it:

"Its a matter of paying now, or paying later. The cost is so much smaller if we pay now."

Click here to read the ACY's full report.

What are your thoughts on this issue?


What about the teacher turnover in these schools? That is the more pressing issue. Principal's are not the ones teaching the children. If principal's deserve bonuses in order to keep them in challanging schools, so do experienced teachers, counselors, nurses, aids, and clericals. The amount of stress and work load on the employees in these schools far outweighs the effort needed by their counterparts at higher achieving schools where children can basically succede with or without their intervention.

I once taught at one of the most challenging schools in the city. A new, but experienced, principal came in and turned it around. It wasn't perfect, but it was quickly improving. As soon as the principal left, things fell apart. We had the same teachers, staff, assistant principals and students. The only significant change was the principal. While a capable, experienced principal isn't the only factor behind school success, he or she is, from my experience, the most important factor.

I used to teach at Pimlico MS and found that it wasn't necessarily that the principal wanted to leave but that North Ave. would move them, at times against their wishes. We had a new principal every year I was there and I thank North Ave for that.

I agree with Anonymous. Baltimore City spends tons of money on incentives for new teachers, but doesn't do anything to try and keep the teachers that already know the kids and the city politics.
However, principals are also a big issue. From my experience, principals are either tyrants that treat teachers like naughty children or are close to retirement and do nothing as far as discipline or intervention.
It's basically a big huge mess of people who don't always do the right thing, but like to blame it on everyone else.

We're in the process of evaluating schools for our son who will be in kindergarten next year. We've seen some great elementary schools and the one thing they all have in common is extremely strong principals. In fact, from what I've observed the stronger the principal the better the school in a very obvious way. Of course an individual teacher can have a major impact on an individual student's year, but a strong pricnicpal makes all the difference for the school as a whole. Not to mention the fact that good teachers aren't going to want to work under ineffective principals.

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