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David Dibble Teacher Oakland, Calif.

James W. Guthrie questions the wisdom of dropping teaching experience as a prerequisite for principals in New Jersey ("The Value of Teaching Experience for Principals," Commentary, Oct. 19, 1988).

As he notes, supporters of this policy contend that classroom teaching experience is not relevant to running the business and housekeeping aspects of schools.

But if we recognize the teacher-student relationship as the heart of schooling, we will see that all educators should be first and always teachers.

Principals should remember that their title is a contraction of the term, "principal teacher."

In teaching as in other professions, there are business matters and physical plants to be administered. But the object of the enterprise remains education, not budgeting and management as such.

While contributions from other fields can help education improve, it should not give the major responsibilities for schools to any but professional teachers.

Ed Foglia President California Teachers Association Burlingame, Calif.

I agree fully with James W. Guthrie's observation that school principals need prior, full-time experience as classroom teachers.

I would, in fact, go one step further. After securing their appointments, principals and other site administrators should continue in a classroom role on a part-time basis.

One of the major causes of conflict between teachers and administrators is the fact that the longer principals are out of the classroom, the more distant and indifferent they become to the realities that teachers face every day.

I'm convinced, for example, that administrators in my own state would be vastly more supportive of the California Teachers Association's efforts to reduce class size if they had to meet a class of 35 or 40 young people even just once a day.

Robert S. Gillette Member Vermont State Board of Education Montpelier, Vt.

James W. Guthrie's Commentary suggests that New Jersey's plan to certify school principals who do not have experience in teaching verges on heresy.

But it is a fact that in all schools--and particularly the larger ones--a significant percentage of the principal's time is taken up with nonacademic concerns: facilities, budgets, negotiations, reports, office administration, and meetings with various boards and individuals.

While school administrations must include educators who are highly experienced in teaching and curriculum, it might be practical to break the principalship into two jobs--one purely administrative and the other academic.

Larger schools could experiment with such an approach. There is no reason why the chief administrative officer shouldn't teach a course or two. And teachers could continue--when ability and interest dictate--to move into administrative positions.

In many states, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire and retain competent administrators. The New Jersey plan might help alleviate the problem.

James A. Peer Associate Professor William Paterson College Wayne, N.J.

New Jersey's Commissioner of Education, Saul A. Cooperman, has called the state's new certification requirements for principals "... the most rigorous in the nation" ("New Jersey Plan Widens Access to Principalship," Sept. 14, 1988).

Included among the new standards is a management-skills assessment. While this process is vital, it is unfamiliar to many administrators, local boards of education, and graduate students.

In a management assessment, a candidate participates in a series of activities--simulation, role- playing, case studies--and is evaluated by trained observers.

Areas that may be measured include administrative skills, leadership, interpersonal skills, supervision of instruction, and judgment.

The assessment is another tool to improve performance of new principals, as well as those already established. It provides employers with an independent appraisal of the candidate, and it allows graduate students to seek improvement in specific areas.

The dividends of these revised standards will soon be evident.

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