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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

How Do We Solve the Administrator Shortage?

By Patrick Sweeney — September 30, 2018 5 min read
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Today’s guest post is written by Patrick Sweeney, Ed.D. is a recently retired superintendent from the Hunter-Tannersville School District (NY).

Lately, we have been talking in education circles about the teacher shortage, but there is another shortage we should be just as concerned about. That shortage I’m referring to is the school administrator shortage. This has been an ongoing issue for over a decade, and NASSP reports,

According to the Institute for Education Statistics, one in five principals working in schools in the 2011-12 school year left their school by the 2012-13 school year. Additional research shows that one out of every two principals is not retained beyond their third year of leading a school.

Given this news, it’s easy to see that the profession of the school administration is in a crisis. There are not enough qualified and suitable candidates out there actively seeking positions despite salary compensation ranging from acceptable to, frankly, outrageous.

But, honestly, what do we expect?

Our society and political leaders have all attacked the profession as being lacking, and, worse, if any educator or administrator offers insights to reform we have been marginalized as obstructionist and placed into the position of proving a negative, which is impossible to do. Those speaking out have, many times, had their voices stifled or silenced. The result has been a continuing decline in those interested in the profession and the further decline in the depth of qualified candidates.

The perfect storm of declining enrollments, the financial crisis that resulted in many teachers and administrators being laid off, and the race to make public education to one size fits all model combine to produce a profession that is scrambling to find its voice and re-develop its recruiting and its certification processes.

The knee-jerk reaction is to allow for a lowering of standards and look to the “alternative” route to certification. while these seem logical however there is a danger to only enhance the trouble being voiced from the field that our administrative candidates are not prepared to take on building and district leadership positions. Lowering standards or allowing for “alternative” routes only targets the number of candidates not the quality of the candidates. We need both numbers and quality.

We need to understand the needs and current life of a building and district administrator, that is why I wrote the “Superintendent ‘s Rulebook” to educate and create a discussion of the day to day thinking of an administrator. It is only in understanding the position can we work via backward design to craft effective preparation and building enthusiasm to attract more quality candidates into the field. In this way we create a pathway to certification that makes sense for all while decreasing, not increasing the number of hoops a person must have to go through to become certified.

It is reasonably well accepted that the needs of rural, suburban, and urban schools are different. Rural Schools are largely challenged by poverty, demographics (huge square miles, poor roads), lack of internet connection/digital education opportunities and funding issues that can be exasperated if it is an area that has many second homeowners of wealth while the student population has a high degree of poverty. Urban Schools deal with poverty (which takes on different, but yet as challenging issues as rural poverty), racism, brain drain to wealthier suburban districts.

Suburban Schools are largely insular to their communities that are more focused on their allocation and acquisition of resources for their needs. These are very broad characterizations and do not speak as one voice for all situations by any stretch of the imagination. We use a one size fits all certification test to act as our quality control for the preparation of our candidates. Thus the average candidate who passes this exam is ready to take on school administration posts anywhere.

However, most of the responses from the field tell us that these candidates are not prepared. The United States Air Force learned this lesson in the late 1940’s in the design of cockpits. In designing cockpits to fit the averaged sized pilot, they created a cockpit that fits no one. Read that story here.

What Are the Pathways to Certification?
To structure an improved system of preparation and customizing skill sets while at the same time right-sizing the hurdles to navigate the pathway to certification, we need to look at micro-credentialing, project-based outcome classroom/experience curriculums and the elimination of the certification exam altogether.

Micro-credentialing is the crafting together specific experiences that match the needs of particular schools and their leaders—negotiating, digital education, inner city (suburban, rural) school community outreach programs, and so on. These experiences and credentials can be tied to field experience whether they occur in the pre-internship or internship portion of the program. Project Based outcome classroom/experience is the tying together the research to solving real issues in schools.

If principals are honest, they will tell you that being a classroom teacher did not prepare them for life as a principal and in turn, superintendents will tell you that being a principal did not prepare them to be school district leaders. Experiences tied to academic preparation can bridge the deficit of development. Specific micro-credentialing is an exciting approach to customize that preparation both for the candidate and the school district.

If We Really Want Qualified School Leaders...
We are experiencing a leadership shortage...

The “Superintendent’s Rulebook: A Guide to District Level Leadership” is a personal journey of the day to day thinking of a District Administrator. Its value is to educate and create an insight and understanding of educational leadership at a grass-roots level. The most direct way to recruit quality candidates is to open their eyes to the position. In traditional certification programs the actual exposure to what a leader thinks and acts or does not act upon is saved for the last part of the program when they must do an internship. By then, it can be too late and the candidate invested too much time and money to get certified.

The danger would be to keep the board testing currently used and just “add-on” new requirements. We need to make the process more purpose-filled and engaging for both the districts and the candidates. To pile on more standards or the alternative to loosen up the pathway that bottlenecks with a board test will not increase the candidate pool nor will it satisfy the shortcomings that our current leaders are expressing. Let us learn the lessons from the 1940’s. For the very reasons listed above, that is why, now, more than ever, we need even better leaders, fewer hurdles, and a more customized pathway to meet our students’ needs.

Dr. Patrick Darfler-Sweeney is the author of The Superintendent’s Rulebook: A guide to District Level Leadership (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2018). Connect with Patrick on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.