Districts Matter: Cultivating the Principals Urban Schools Need

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Districts Matter: Cultivating the Principals Urban Schools Need

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT profoundly shapes the destinies of its principals: how they are trained, hired, mentored, evaluated and developed on the job. Yet until recently, many educators and policy makers overlooked the unique role districts can play to help principals shoulder their central responsibility: improving teaching and learning.

Armed with new evidence about the importance of school leadership and how it can best be developed, a growing number of large districts are seeking to cultivate first-rate principals for all their schools. Doing so requires that they carry out two big tasks.

First, build a large corps of well-qualified candidates for the principalship:

  • Create job descriptions that clearly spell out what principals need to know and do to drive better instruction.
  • Improve "pre-service" principal training.
  • Establish selective hiring procedures that identify the most promising future leaders and match them to the right schools.
  • Ensure that hard-to-staff schools get top-quality leaders.

Second, support school leaders on the job:

  • Develop fair, reliable performance evaluations that hold principals accountable for student progress and inform their ongoing training.
  • Offer mentoring to novice principals and professional development to all principals, so school leaders improve throughout their careers.
  • Provide school leaders with timely, useful data and training on how to use it.
  • Enable principals to devote sufficient time to improving instruction and to making the best use of that time.
  • Plan for orderly turnover and leadership succession.

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