HJR 20/SJR 58: Commission to Review, Study and Reform Educational Leadership

July 15, 2002

At its second meeting, the commission examined professional development, leadership standards and qualities, challenges facing education leadership, and suggestions for change. Representatives of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Education Association, as well as representatives of state and national education leadership entities, addressed the commission.

Professional Development

Established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1984, the Principals’ Executive Program (PEP), located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has expanded in the last five years from three to 10 differentiated programs, having provided professional development opportunities for 33,000 North Carolina school administrators. PEP’s assistant director stated that the initiative receives approximately $1.5 million in state appropriations annually.

Residential and seminar programs include the Developing Future Leaders, Higher School Performance, Principals as Technology Leaders, Leadership for Career Administrators, and Central Office Leadership programs, as well as leadership programs crafted for new, assistant, and charter school principals. An estimated 75 percent of five "graduating classes" from the Developing Future Leaders program have subsequently entered programs to gain administrative licensure. In response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), PEP is also developing models to assist administrators in sifting through and effectively using existing student achievement data to enhance academic performance.

A representative of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in Washington, D.C., noted that increased emphasis on educational accountability calls for enhanced professional development programs focusing on instructional issues and new accountability standards. Also suggested by other presenters were the creation and funding of professional development centers (an administrators’ "academy"), principal mentorships (with compensation for mentors), a paid internship program, a master-level license for administrators (similar to that available to teachers through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards), and a formal study or survey of time spent "on the job" by Virginia principals. Modifying training and licensure, annual performance evaluations, and professional development opportunities to reflect Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards was also recommended.

Leadership Standards and Qualities

Instructional leadership, followed by community and visionary leadership, is an essential quality for school administrators, according to the president of the IEL. Noting that "everything principals do—establishing a vision, setting goals, managing staff, rallying the community, creating effective learning environments, building support systems for students, guiding instruction, etc.—must be in service to student learning," she stated that the demands of a typical 60-hour principal workweek suggest a need to "re-culture" the school environment to accommodate new ways of communicating and collaborating. In addition, school leadership should be effectively distributed to other school-based staff, local councils, parents, students, and "external stakeholders."

Principals surveyed by IEL indicated that school administrators must "establish modes of shared monitoring of curriculum and instruction"; create "settings for teachers to acquire new content and instructional skills"; and "engage teachers in analyzing and understanding effective practices." Research suggests that organizational success—academic achievement within a school or school division, for example—is undergirded by a shared purpose—the alignment of individuals’ values with a greater goal, and coherence among programs. In addition, research indicates that leadership "resides in relationship among people"—such as those between administrators and teachers—which, if positive, can promote shared action and values.

The executive director of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals cited leadership standards for principals and those who train them. Although 48 states have adopted some sort of standards-driven curriculum and testing, none has similar standards for principals. Forty-two states, including the Commonwealth, have adopted the ISLLC standards, but little direction exists among policymakers as to their implementation or assessment.

These standards might not only identify a curriculum framework for principal training and professional development, but also serve as guidelines for principals striving to hone their skills and improve services offered to students. Renewal of licensure and the development of a required professional growth plan based on the ISLLC standards was also suggested.

The implementation of any school administrator standards calls into question the adequacy of current training and professional development programs; the availability of technical assistance; the potential basis for these standards—whether national, regional, or state expectations; and responsibility for the interpretation of such standards. While principals may be given an array of standards, they will also require guidance and training in the identification, implementation, and sustaining of strategies to support these standards. Commission discussion also focused on distinguishing the principal as "instructional leader" rather than a "curriculum expert."

Suggestions for Change

Repeated testimony cited identification and recruitment of the "next generation" of principals, as 56 percent of Virginia school leaders plan to retire in the next nine years. Discussion focused on consideration of assistant principals and teachers as well as "nontraditional candidates" among the applicant pool as a critical challenge for education leadership. IEL testimony noted that, in addition, recruitment should target narrowing the race and gender gaps.

Preparation programs for school administrators should be anchored in the "real world" challenges and tasks facing principals and superintendents (see Figure 1); licensure standards should be rigorous and monitored. Also aiding recruitment and retention are portable retirement plans as well as increased pay and recognition. Using multiple measures to hold principals accountable—such as teacher attendance and turnover, dropout rates, and specific, required skills, rather than sole reliance on student test scores—was also recommended.

Figure 1: Principal Duties - Hours per Week.

Parent: 7.8, Discipline: 6.9, Community Relations: 6.0, Facilities: 5.7, Teacher Evaluation: 5.2, Program Evaluation: 4.8, Safety: 4.7, Curriculum Development: 4.3, Strategic Planning: 4.0, Professional Development: 3.9, Budgets: 3.8, Student Assessment: 3.6, Lesson Demonstration: 1.3.

Survey conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Milken Family Foundation.

Other recurring issues identified as leadership challenges are the need for increased autonomy and authority, particularly in hiring and firing of instructional personnel; the need for more assistant principals, especially in elementary schools; frustrations with increased hours and expanding duties and decreasing job "do-ability"; lack of school division support; and increased, appropriate compensation and recognition. According to a 2001 study conducted by the VAESP, VASSP and the College of William and Mary in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education, salary increases for principals have lagged behind those for teachers in the past five years; 46 percent of principals indicated that their increases were smaller than those of teachers (see Table 1).

Table 1:
Virginia School Principals' Salary Increases, 1996-2001
Academic Year Salary Increase (%)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 or
1999-2000 to 2000-2001
1998-1999 to 1999-2000
1997-1998 to 1998-1999
1996-1997 to 1997-1998

(Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, College of William and Mary, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education).

According to Educational Research Services’ National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools, 2001-2002 edition, average principal salaries in the southeast fall 7.7 percent below the national average. The average salary for all Virginia principals was reported at $41,103. The national mean salaries for elementary, middle, and high school principals were $73,000, $78,176, and $83,944, respectively. Aligning school administrator salaries more closely to those of comparable positions in the private sector will help address the critical shortage of qualified principal candidates.

The commission expects to meet again in mid-September.


The Hon. Phillip A. Hamilton

For information, contact:

Kathleen G. Harris
Division of Legislative Services


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