Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is principal selection about to change?

The House Education Committee has reported out House Bill 322 on principal selection. Since I watched on-line, I don't yet have a copy of the substitute language added during the committee meeting, but I"m confident I've got the main idea.

Since 1990, Kentucky law has called for school councils to select principals, with the big debate being over the role of the superintendent in deciding who could be considered for the job.

The Department long advised that the council only got to consider qualified applicants, and that only people the superintendent recommended were qualified. If a superintendent recommended only two people, the council needed to choose from that pair.

The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, rejected that interpretation in 2004, and read the law to say that when councils ask for additional applicants, the superintendent cannot hold back applicants based on his or her judgment about whether they can be effective.

Today's committee vote was on language that would let the superintendent submit three names to the council and give the council three weeks to choose between them.

I'm not opposed to the change. Student success requires highly effective principals. To be effective, new principals must start work with the support both of their councils and their superintendents. The method in the amended bill will provide that shared support, so I think it's okay.

On the other hand, I'm not excited about it. That's because I know that most principals already come in with strong support from their superintendents.

First, the superintendents I admire most invest deeply in working with their councils, and when it's time to select principals, they have substantial influence on the results.

Second, many potential principals know they can't succeed without strong support, so they don't even apply if they won't have the superintendent's backing. I've seen two kinds of exceptions. One is that a principal with local roots may try to wait out a superintendent who isn't from the area, The other is that in the largest districts, principals don't expect to spend much time working closely with the superintendent, so they seem to be less concerned about making sure that relationship will be a warm one. In general, though, principals only go where they're wanted, and that includes being wanted by the superintendent.

Knowing all of that, if HB 322 becomes law, I do not think it will change the outcome in most principal selections.

(For readers who do not already know, I worked for the Kentucky Association of School Councils from its founding until 2006.)

1 comment:

  1. Please beware the growing power of superintendent/administrator organizations and networks. I believe this bill is another step toward making the superintendent all powerful. KERA originally attempted to disperse the power so one entity (especially the school board), did not have total control, an admirable objective. However, these efforts have shifted the balance of power to the superintendents. A poor superintendent can break a school district. Currently the superintendent has almost total control over a school system and board. The board is pressured to support the superintendent under the guize that he/she is always focused on the needs of the children. This is great if in fact the superintendent is great. But, it is difficult to out a superintendent who is not effective when he/she controls all the employees and all the info coming before the board. It is easy for the superintendent to shift the blame to underlings. I also believe this bill reduces even further the input that the taxpaying parents have in the operations of the individual schools. The definition of "consultation" will be just as meaningless with the superintendents as it is with some Principals.


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