Education Chat

Getting Serious About Principal Preparation

Gene Bottoms and Jon Schnur discussed how to attract, prepare, and support talented individuals who want to become effective principals.

October 17, 2007

Getting Serious About Principal Preparation

Gene Bottoms
, the senior vice president for the Southern Regional Education Board; and Jon Schnur, the CEO of New Leaders for New Schools.

Michele McNeil (Moderator):

Hello everyone. Welcome to today’s live chat about principal preparation. My name is Michele McNeil, and I’m a reporter here at Education Week. To answer your questions, we’ve got two experts on principal training: Jon Schnur, the CEO of New Leaders for New Schools, and Gene Bottoms, the senior vice president for the Southern Regional Education Board. We’ve already received a lot of great questions, so let’s get the discussion started.

Question from Andrew Goldenkranz, Principal/Superintendent, Pacific Collegiate School:

Hi, we’re an independent charter school and are looking for a program in which we can grwo the next generation of leaders from within. What are the scale issues involved: do small schools or districts affiliate with a larger operation? Asa charter we’ve found that conventional programs do not typically reflect the flexibility that charters need in our daily operations.

Gene Bottoms:

One option is to join with other charter schools to develop a collaborative working relationship with a university to design and deliver a leadership preparation program that is customized for the unique features of a charter school. If there are not a sufficient numbers to form a collaborative, join with another group of school districts that are working with a university to create the internship experience within your school that would give an aspiring leader an opportunity to observe, participate in and lead efforts to improve student achievement and the learning environment in the context of a charter school.

Question from Art Pelletier, involuntarily retired high school teacher, NH:

Where is this “drive” to make principals instructional and achievement leaders coming from? They should stick to managing the school (which many don’t do well anyway) and leave the instruction and achievement decisions to teachers and their departments. This is a major error in direction for public schools.

Jon Schnur:

We have examined the schools making the most dramatic progress educating all kids -- and one of the consistent characteristics of these schools is an outstanding principal with high expectations for all students and is the CEO-instructional leader of the school. Given the urgency of closing the achievement gap -- especially for low-income students and students of color -- we at New Leaders for New Schools think it is imperative to act on this evidence and find and prepare principals who can play this role at scale in the United States.

Question from Ann Duffy, Policy Director, Georgia’s Leadership Institute for School Improvement:

Georgia recently adopted new leadership standards and program approval standards. These standards require performance-based preparation programs that are joint programs between districts and universities. In your opinion, how can these partnerships be structured to provide the greatest value to all parties, but especially to the district?

Gene Bottoms:

Hello, Ann. True collaborative partnerships will start with defining the roles and responsibilities of each partner. This would include giving school districts a major voice in the recruitment and selection of aspiring principals. It would also include engaging the top school leaders in the local district in the redesign of university coursework to reflect what future school leaders need to know and be able to do to create effective schools in the age of accountability. It would further involve the district playing an equal role to the university in designing and carrying out internship experiences that allow the aspiring school leader to observe, in a variety of schools--both low and high performing--and to participate with teams in these schools to create a school-improvement agenda around a major problem area; and, to actually lead a team of faculty members to develop solutions to a critical achievement problem. They also need to provide ongoing opportunities for reflection with the aspiring leader regarding critical skills that a leader must demonstrate--drawing upon their observations, participation and leadership experiences from the internship. Where appropriate, the school district may be involved in delivering part of the coursework in the preparation program. Finally, the district through the internship experience must have a voice equal to the university in evaluating whether the aspiring candidate is ready to be recommended for a temporary school-leadership license.

Question from Margi Coxwell, Associate Professor of Education, Minot State University:

In my experience, over many years as an elementary teacher, there was only one (of about 10) principal who was truly an educational leader. The rest seemed to see the job as either a means for making money or as a way to have power. How can prospective principals be screened to assure that their motives are exemplary?

Gene Bottoms:

Margi, school districts must partner with universities in the recruitment and selection of future school principals. You cannot limit the selection to candidates’ performance on some type of exam. Districts need to play a major role in selecting aspiring leaders and give particular attention to their effectiveness as a teacher, to their ability to get high performance from all groups of students, and to their skills in leading groups of teachers to make substantial improvements in school and classroom practices. East Tennessee State University, which Education Week recently featured in an article, partners with their local school districts in the selection of future school leaders, with a focus on finding folks who are strong in curriculum and instruction. Another example would be the University of Memphis and its work with the Memphis and Shelby County school districts.

Question from Kathleen Hayes, Ed.D. student, Teachers College:

Although the push seems to be toward principals as instructional leaders, there seems to be little examination of what an effective instructional leader DOES. Consequently, that role can remain largely symbolic -- talked about a lot but not enacted. So, what does “instructional leader” mean to those who are mandating it and those principals who are doing it well? What do principals need to know how to DO in order to successfully enact that imperative?

Jon Schnur:

Great question!! The evidence we have seen is that effective principals 1) set high expectations for every student in the school regardless of background 2) Create a staff that is unified and relentlessly driven by these high expectations and the urgency to make them happen. 3) Creates very clear expectations in the school for adults - and clear standards for student achievement at every grade level, for every unit, and every day - and the kind of instructional practice and culture that is needed to drvie dramatic achievement gains. 4) Create time and an approach to using data that teachers can work together in very structured ways to analyze data on student performance, identify trends of students missing specific academic standards, and developing strategies to close the achievement gap classroom by classroom and student by student. 5) Work with teachers to have an instructional “battle plan” to help every student achieve high standards 6) Find, hire and retain mission-driven teachers and other staff in the school 7) Substantial daily time in classrooms observing, giving feedback, following up with every teacher in the school -- and buuilding a leadership team that can do that schoolwide. 9) Harness the underutlized resource of parents and the community to help every student focus on learning, hard work and high levels of achievement. 10) Create a culture in the school of high expectations, hard work, and respect for all. Be relentless about driving and creating staff and studnt bodies that enforce that culture schoolwide.

Question from Mary Estes, Teacher Assistant, Houstonisd:

Is a Master’s Degree required to become an effective Principal?

Gene Bottoms:

Yes, but a new kind of master’s degree developed in collaboration with a school district to produce principals who can work with the faculty and parents to create an effective learning culture in their school. It would be a program in which at least a third or more of the preparation is around curriculum and instruction, and would provide extensive opportunities for the aspiring principal to observe and participate in school-improvement activities in a variety of schools, including an intensive internship in a single school in which the aspiring leader works with a group of teachers to address a major instructional problem. Many preparation programs lack these elements.

Question from Randy Dobbs, Senior Academic Advisor, Georgia’s Leadership Institution for School Improvement:

Georgia sunset all of the existing university-based preparation programs and all must reapply this year under new standards. This is an opportunity for programs to redesign for a performance-based program in partnership with districts and we have high expectations for the quality of the new programs. In your opinion, what are the greatest obstacles and opportunities of such a policy?

Jon Schnur:

Opportunity is to start fresh and design a program that is based on evidence from high-performing and fast-improving schools. Opportunity is to FOCUS on selecting the right individuals and prepare people in the practical ways needed to succeed as principals. Opportunity is to create a data-driven model that tracks student achievement in schools led by trained principals, principal placement and retention and implications each year for the program’s improvement. Barriers include the lack of clear knowledge base about how to do this, limited capacity and the need for involvement of high-performing school leaders not just university faculty, and some outdated ideas of the principalship. These programs must be based on finding and preparing principasl who can be CEOs and instructional leaders...agents of change and results for students....not agents of the bureacracy or the status quo.

Question from Diane Mattison-Nottage, 8th grade teacher, Springfield Middle Schoo, Springfield, OR:

I wonder why, at least in our state, there is no requirement that principals have actual classroom experience in order to gain licensure. It seems logical that in order to really understand the challenges faced by classroom teachers a principal have some first hand knowledge of the craft of teaching. In order to be effective at teacher evaluation Without real teaching experience I don’t see how they can. NCLB requires schools to employ Highly Qualified Teachers but there is no mention of Highly Qualified Administrators.

Gene Bottoms:

I would agree that you need highly qualified principals in every school, who meet at least three criteria: first, they have been recognized as good teachers and taught all groups of students at exceedingly high levels; they had passion for quality teaching and for teaching all groups of students; and, there is evidence of leadership skills in their work with other teachers. We have to shift the focus on who goes into school principals’ prepararation programs so we can get god teachers who have these qualities to become future school principals.

Question from Judy Stewart, PhD, Consultant to National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality:

What effect does a principal residency have on principal recruitment and retention in urban schools? Are aspiring principals in a residency program (such as New Leaders for New Schools) more likely to earn their admin certification and accept a principalship than those in a traditional graduate program that offers a master’s degree, certification but no residency placement? Where does the research stand?

Jon Schnur:

Yes, the data shows a much higher percentage of New Leaders goign through this kind of rigorous selection process and year-long residency become and remain principals than other programs. An analysis has been done of this for exampel in Chicago comparing New Leaders to university programs and internal district programs that have lacked these and other features. The result of this analysis is that our retention and placement metrics are much higher. But never high enough!!

Question from Steve Laing, Coordinator, Administrative Training Program, Utah State University:

I am interested in mentoring programs for new principals during the first one to three years of employment. Are such programs collaborative between the employing school district and a university, or just district based? If collaborative, does the university offer credit, charge tuition, and treat the experience as a course? Do the participating new principals spend time away from their schools, and if so how much?

Gene Bottoms:

Some mentoring programs for first-year principals are district-based, some are university-based and some are collaborative between the two. In some states, the mentoring of new principals is treated as a course and has tuition. In other cases, this mentoring may be provided under a state leadership academy, and the mentoring is provided by an approved mentor through a protocol that establishes how the mentor will work with the first-year principal. Right now, this type of mentoring is very underdeveloped in most states. Our new SREB report, “Schools Need Good Leaders Now: State Progress in Creating a Learning-Centered School Leadership System,” offers six actions states can take to support principals in moving from an entry-level license to a professional-level license after completing an induction program. The report will be released officially soon, but is available now on the Web at

Question from Michael Hartney, Policy Analyst - National Governors Association:

More than ever before education reformers argue for greater inclusion of entrepreneurial principles in the K-12 system. Do you see any utility in restructuring the school leadership model along the lines of a company led by a CEO, CFO, and COO? Rather than require one individual to be a transformational, instructional, and operational leader all at the same time, this approach would enable leaders to focus on their strengths, whether instructional mastery, financial and business expertise, or organizational management.

Jon Schnur:

YEs!!! This is one of the best opportunities of our generation to ensure effective leadership and management at the school level. I think we have an outdated principalship and school leadership team structure. We at New Leaders are very eager to partner with interested school systems and states to pilot new structures for leadership teams of the kind you descrieb as well as other alternatives. The UK has done some of this - they are way ahead of us on this and we can learn from their successes and mistakes. would eb GREAT for the NGA and others to advocate for this and partner to do this and evaluate the results and show the country what is possible. feel free to be in touch!

Question from melanie tyner-wilson, mediator, Kentucky department of education:

My questions are about children with disabilites-I am disheartened at the limited coursework that folks attempting to get the required degrees/certiciation to be principals are required to take in the area of special needs students. Frequently the culture within a school is directly impacted by the leadership-how can preservice preparation programs impact how these professionals perceive and work with these students. The concept of equality,equity and diversity include the disabled-but frequently the focus goes to ethnicity.

Gene Bottoms:

A quality leadership preparation program would provide aspiring leaders with learning about the groups of students who are at risk of not succeeding in schools, including those with disabilities. Whether that means courses or instructional units, I’m not sure. But in addition, their experiences in schools should provide them an opportunity to observe schools that are effectively addressing the needs of these groups, and part of their experiences should involve working with faculty teams to work with various groups of students in a school that aren’t currently being well-served. It’s not just students with disabilities that are not being well-served in many cases; it’s a variety of students who get relegated to low-level courses. There must be a comprehensive approach to address the full range of student groups within each campus.

Question from Don Barrs, WCG Region V Coordinator:

What role do you see retired principals play in the development of future and current principals?

Gene Bottoms:

Retired principals with a track record of having had a high performing school with ordinary students can be a great resource as a mentor/coach for aspiring principals as part of an internship experience--as well as assistance during the first, second or third year on the job. But the key is that the retired principal needs to have demonstrated that they engaged their faculty in developing the school culture, the curriculum, that resulted in all groups of students succeeding at very high levels. Some retired principals had good schools not by their making, but by the nature of the student body. It’s important to discern the difference in selecting retired principals to mentor aspiring and new principals.

Question from Marietta Brown-Sanders:

Do you suggest becoming an Assistant Principal prior to becoming the Principal?

Jon Schnur:

We think the best New Leaders and other principals are people who haev a deeply held belief system that every child regardless of background can learn and achieve at high level, a results-orientation, a willingness to hold themselves and other adults accountable for student performance, and a sense of urgency about the need to help every student succeed. They also know what great learning and teaching look like. And they have a record and interest of leading and managing adults. The fact is that some of these people are assistant principals, other are teacher leaders or instructional coaches, others are executives in business, universities, non-profits with prior teaching experience. The most important thing is having these characteristics -- not necessarily experience in -- or the number of years of experience in -- a particular role like the assistant principalship.

Question from Victoria O’Reilly, Administrative Credential Student:

How do I get the necessary hands-on “training” to be a principal when taking the exclusively online administrative credential at National University?

Gene Bottoms:

If the current institution is not willing to help you design hands-on internships and learning experiences, you should approach a local school district to see if you can work out your own. For more information on high-quality principal internships, you might take a look at the SREB report, “The Principal Internship: How Can We Get It Right?.” It’s available at enter the title of the report in the search window and it will appear.

Question from Dr. Gini Doolitte, Associate Professor, Rowan University:

What percentage of time should be devoted to fieldwork during a preparation program?

Gene Bottoms:

Time is an important dimension in field preparation for principals, but not the most important. Instead, the quality of the internship experience should be the priority. A lot of time and field work spent just shadowing principals doing routine, mundane things won’t make a lot of difference. Structuring field experiences so that the aspiring leader can observe an effective faculty meeting, principals’ classroom observations and feedback to teachers, seeing how a school plans effective staff development and follow-through in putting new knowledge and skills into practice--those would be the type of experiences the aspiring leader needs to observe, participate in and to lead during the internship, aimed at improving the quality of educational experience for students and to improve student achievement.

Question from Dr. Phyllis Gimbel, Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership, Bridgewater State College, MA:

Recent evidence points to the principal onsite field experience as a weak component in university educational administration programs. How do you see colleges and universities refashioning the principal internship to keep pace with professional organizations, non-profit and for profit ventures in this domain?

Gene Bottoms:

Universities need to join with local school districts to create quality on-site field experiences for aspiring principals. What is currently being passed off as a quality internship experience by many universities is a sham. You cannot do it alone, and it’s only through a true collaborative partnership between districts and universities that principal-candidates can find the quality learning experiences they need. We have found that districts are willing to make some investments themselves, when approached properly. It may mean university presidents must be willing to no longer see leadership- preparation programs as a major money-maker for institutions. They must be willing not only to re-invest tuition back into the preparation programs, but even some university discretionary funds. Great leadership preparation programs cannot be developed on the cheap. Again, East Tennessee State University is a good example of progress. Trial efforts at four universities in Alabama also are worth noting. Also, Louisiana has redesigned all of its preparation programs in collaboration with local school districts to provide much higher-quality preparation experiences. In our recent publication, “The Principal Internship: How Can We Get It Right?”, we went to great length to lay out what a redesigned internship experience might look like and how universities and local school districts can work in partnership to create and carry out such a program.

Question from Annette Aron, Assistant Principal, Austin School System:

Why doesn’t an assistant principal’s work experience prepare them to be effective principals.

Gene Bottoms:

Good question. Many great teachers who would make great principals refuse to enter into school leadership preparation because they do not want to do what they see assistant principals doing. In some schools, the role of assistant principal is different. But too often, the assistant principal is given the mundane tasks that have to be done: keeping up with book inventories, looking after sports events, bus duty, discipline and a whole range of other administrative tasks that take them completely out of curriculum and instruction activities. As one district superintendent said to me, he had 60 assistant principals, and only three or four would he have moved to the principalship, because they had not been in a position to learn how to be a principal in the age of accountability. They did not know how to work with the faculty to align classroom instruction to standards, to get agreement on what grade-level student work looked like, or what quality instruction looked like, or how to help teachers use the latest research-based teaching methods.

Question from Dan Cherry, Consultant:

I am curious if you have any information looking at elementary or middle schools who have actually broken the principalship into two parts. A curriculum instructional leader and a management operations position. There seems to be this division at a district level but I have heard of this being experimented at the school level. Thoughts?

Gene Bottoms:

Check with the superintendent’s office in Jefferson County, Kentucky, where they’ve been doing this at elementary schools and are now trying it in middle grades and high schools. They can tell you what they’ve found. It’s my understanding they have seen some good results.

Question from

Do you guys have any data or empirical eveidence or research that shows that NLNS works? Who has it been conducted by? thanks, Mike

Jon Schnur:

Michael -- This is one of the most important questions you could ask about New Leaders or any program preparing principals. One major concern is that most schools of education don’t even track this data and therefore it is not a real focus and can’t be used to improve the program. I would recommend that all schools of education bne required to and supported in collecting and analyzing this data and using it to improve their programs on an annual basis. As for New Leaders, the RAND corporation is doing our 5-year, world-class longitudinal evaluation. It will be published four years from now. That said, we do have preliminary data on student achievement in schools led by New Leaders principals. It is encouraging but we are not at all satisfied about the pace of progress. Specifically, students in roughly 2/3 of elementary and middle schools led by New Leaders principals are outperforming comparable students in their schol systems. After a school has been led by a New Leaders principal for three years, we are seeing some quite notable achievement gains compared to other schools. And about 20% of the schools led by New Leaders principals are makign breakthrough, dramatic achievement gains. For example, the single-most improved school in Chicago last year was led by a New Leaders principal. Same for Sacramento. And in DC, one of the top 3 most improved schools was led by a New Leaders principal -- goign from the worst-performing elementary school in DC to one of the top 20 schools in the city in just 3 years. We are closely examining what is happening in those fast-improving schools and then adapting that knowledge to inform our model for selection, training, and support of principals and the schools they lead. Our goal is for 90-100 percent of the students in our schools led by New Leaders principals for at least give years to be at proficiency or above by 2014 with 90% of high school students graduating ready for post-high school success. We are nowhere close to this goal yet, though I beleive that our community’s passion, commitment, skills, data-driven continuous improvement and developing knowledge and research base will enable us to succeed at this goal -- creating breakthrough success for low-income students at unprecedented scale.

Michele McNeil (Moderator):

While our guests continue working on your questions, I wanted to let you know that you can read more about principal preparation in Education Week‘s special leadership report at:

Question from Linda Macaulay, doctoral student, Towson University:

How can we better prepare future principals to be instructional leaders that can support and use technology effectively?

Gene Bottoms:

Make the use of technology an integral part of their preparation program for becoming a school leader. Part of their coursework may be taken in a Web-based format, and there are a whole range of ways technology can be integrated into a leadership preparation program. Aspiring leaders need to learn to use technology as part of being prepared to be an effective future school leader.

Question from Gary J. Stebbins ed.D. Assistant Professor, San Jose State Univ., San Jose, CA (Ed Leadership Dept.):

As far as I know Calif. is the only state which allows the School Leadership Licensure Assessment (SLLA) test as one avenue to obtain the credential required for an administrative position. What are your thoughts on this? Can one test be valid process about “getting serious?”

Gene Bottoms:

The first step toward getting good principals is to get good people to enter preparation programs. We need to find candidates who have demonstrated already that they have some of the necessary qualities for being an effective principal. While an assessment is useful, it should not be the only determining factor. A major part of the student’s qualifications should be built around their internship experiences in schools and in judging their ability to interact with teams of teachers to address problems, to form solutions--those should be additional major factors in assessing which candidates will be licensed to become principals.

Question from Dr. JoAnn Brown, Rising Stars Program Director, Georgia’s Leadership Insitute for School Improvement:

Georgia’s Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI) works with rural and urban districts to provide leadership preparation programs. The needs are the same, but the strategies for solving them may be different. What do you see are the differences between ensuring effective leadership preparation and development for urban and rural districts?

Gene Bottoms:

Aspiring school leaders from both urban and rural schools need an opportunity for on-site learning experiences beyond their own school districts. Every district has its own culture, and too often aspiring leaders are having their internship experiences within the school where they teach and thus never see what schools look like that may be much better than theirs. Better field experiences in both low- and high-performing districts and schools are necessary, no matter what type of school an aspiring leader comes from. Both sets of aspiring principals need to learn how to negotiate with the district office to get what you need from them to improve your schools. Certainly, urban districts have more complex district offices, but often their provision of services to the school sites are fairly weak. On the other hand, rural districts seem to have limited capacity and the rural principal has to be rather entreprenureal in finding the resources or expertise he/she may need. In fact, urban principals have to do the same thing within the context of their own district.

Question from Augustina H. Reyes. Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Houston:

Issues of school reform and school improvement are fundamentally issues of improving student achievement. As the research on the relationships between school leadership and student achievement has evolved, more data are available with which to question the quality of principal preparation programs. However, the reality is that for years principal preparation programs have produced school leaders who have excelled in producing high achievement for schools that are at least 60% white. In most instances, it is when school demographics become majority minority and poor that school achievement drops. Nationally, the African American and Hispanic student population has increased to 38% of the total public school membership. Should we be asking “How does the quality of principals in high-minority, high-poverty schools compare with the quality of principals serving high achieving, more advantaged schools?” ... In short, how can we do for minority children what we have been doing for majority children all these years?

Jon Schnur:

Augustina -- This is so important. I think the quality of principals in schools serving high-poverty, high-minority, and low-acheiving schools must be HIGHER than in other schools. Children in these schools have the same potential as children in more affluent schools, yet we as a society in most of these schools have NOT yet provided the quality of education needed for them to succeed. So, we need absolutely outstanding and well-supported principals and school leadership teams in these schools. Here is some good news at New Leaders for New Schools as a window onto the great and diverse talent pool interested in the principalship. We have had about 7,000 applications for our first 400+fellowships. And our 400+ New Leaders are mission-driven leaders of people and instruction -- 2/3 are people of color, from inside and outside participating school systems, ages from late 20s to mid 50s, 2/3 female. I think it is clear that there is absolutely outstanding and diverse pool of leaders who are willing and committed to lead our low-income schools toward high achievement for all students. Our job as a society is to find them, prepare them, support them, and create the conditions and contexts in which they can succeed. That means transforming the principalship into a role of CEO and instructional leader responsible for student success and aligning everything else in our principal preparatin programs and school systems to support that.

Question from Dr. William Tomhave, Professor, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN:

The cadre of principals is aging but there are many artificial obstacles facing a young person who aspires to a career in school administration. Why do we make it both difficult and expensive for a young person who holds principal licenses in one state to obtain a license in another state? Who benefits from this practice? What can be done to improve the situation?

Gene Bottoms:

There is no quick fix to this problem. I suspect the concept of reciprocity will remain in question until most states have redesigned their leadership preparation programs with a greater focus on curriculum, instruction and improving student achievement. You can ensure that your program certificate will transfer by choosing the right institution for your preparation. This should be an institution that has redesigned its curriculum with an emphasis on curriculum instruction, a strong field-based component that goes beyond just observing and engages the aspiring principal in creating and leading school-improvement strategies with teams of faculty, and so forth. Persons who build their portfolio with this type of learning should be able to be certified in any state. There remains today a number of diploma-mill graduate institutions offering leadership preparation for which there is no field-based supervision, in which the coursework is extremely weak, and there is no collaboration in planning the program with any school district. Many states are starting to refuse to accept graduates from these programs and certify them in their states.

Question from Marjee- Instructional Designer-PBS:

If you were to name three qualities that newer generations of principals will need to have that might not have been as important as past principals, what would those quailities be?

Jon Schnur:

3 things. First,a deep belief that every student regardless of background can achieve at high levels and a sense of deeply rooted personal urgency to translate that potential into success. Second, an ability to lead data-driven learning and teaching for every student in every classroom in the school. Third, a “talent and learning mindset” where they spend a ton of effective time looking for the best talented staff, retaining and supporting and developing current staff, and ensuring that they and their teams are constantly learning how to do better. The context is that we have rightly decided as a society that we must educate EVERY student to a high level -- and no society has ever doen that before and we need principals who are CEOS and instructional leaders to lead the way school-by-school,

Question from Reed Markham, Associate Professor, Daytona Beach College:

I agree that many prinicipals are good managers. It is rare to find a principal who possesses strong strategic planning and communication skills. Is strategic planning and communication skill development a high priority in training new principals?

Jon Schnur:

This is a very high priority. And no one that I have seen in the field of principal preparation -- including New Leaders -- has nailed this yet. And we must.

Question from Brad Morse, Brigade Operations Sargeant Major, U.S. Army:

I will be retiring in the next 18 months. I normally manage 1500 plus soldiers. What should I do now to prepare myself to become a principle?

Jon Schnur:

So glad you are interested in the principalship!! If you haven’t taught before< I would recommend looking at high quality alternative teacher training programs that could palce you and train you as a teacher. (The Chicago Academy for Urban School LEadership is a marvelous example in Chicago. The New Teachers Project is also a very strong organization that does this work.) Once you are a teacher and demonstrate success in the classroom, then you can apply to New Leaders or other programs to make the transition to a principal and leverage your management experience and the teaching experience you would acquire. While the average teaching experience of a New Leaders principal is 6 years, some people meet our criteria (including career-changers) after as few or 2 or three years. One of the most improved schools in the country led by a New Leaders principal who had been in the military before coming into teaching.

Question from Julie McCann School Change Coach, E3:Employers for Educational Excellence Oregon Small School Initiative:

The idea of mentoring new principals on the job is powerful. However, what I see happening is people chosen for mentors are retired principals that in many cases are NO models. They are looking for second income and only recreate or socialize new principals to the current status quo. How do we assure that mentors are truly the quality we want to emulate?

Gene Bottoms:

You’re exactly right. It’s very difficult for me to see how a principal who was not effective can be a good mentor to a new principal. The best way to get quality mentors is to choose persons who worked with their faculty and their community in such a way that they made a difference in improving the quality of learning experiences for students. The second step is to devote resources to a fairly intensive training rogram for mentors and the development of a set of materials that will provide structure and quality to the internship and mentoring experience. Third, mentoring should be a collaborative process involving both the university professor and the assigned mentor. Fourth, preparation programs should conduct regular meetings with mentors to ensure aspiring principals are getting the experiences necessary to learn how to lead and work with the faculty on addressing major instructional problems. For more information, see our report on the need to raise the quality of principals/ mentoring experiences, at this link:

Question from Sarah Jones, Director of Student Activities, Manchester High School:

Please address the crunch between the shortage of administrators and the need for highly skilled. How can a program balance between shortage and selective? Also, what are your feelings towards recruting principals from alternative backgrounds?

Jon Schnur:

The key is quality and selectivity on the front end -- and support and training once people enter. There ARE enough string candidates if we do the right recruiting without needing to lower selection standards. AND we must get much better at identifying the high-performing teachers earlier in their careers and groomign them for future leadership and management. For example, when people apply to New Leaders for New Schools but aren’t ready for the principalsip, we give the strongest of them a “deny with encouragement” where we give them counsel on how to develop their skills and sometimes find roles for them as a teacher leader or instructional coach with a strong New Leaders principal to get ready for the New Leaders program and principalship over time.

Question from Sarah Smith, Teacher, North Carolina:

Principals primarily focus on creating an environment conducive to student learning. However, in this process they often forget about creating an environment for teacher success and continued learning. Shouldn’t principals obtain feedback from their teachers in order to improve working conditions for their faculty? Also, what are some strategies that principals can use to improve teacher working conditions?

Gene Bottoms:

Yes, principals should seek and receive feedback from teachers. Effective principals engage faculty in taking ownership of problems and in developing solutions to those problems--and the support teachers need to make the implementation of those solutions work. It’s my experience that leaders who engage the teachers in addressing critical problems create working conditions in which teachers gain a great deal of satisfaction for their work, believe they’re making a difference and are part of an exciting school that’s continuously improving. Principals who impose solutions on faculty often get a great deal of resistance because the solution belongs to someone else, not to the teachers. Being a part of a continuous imporvement effort and having a voice in that imporvement creates a very positive climate for both students and faculty.

Question from Peter Goodman, Consultant, New Visions for Public Schools:

Should demonstrated excellence in teaching be a prerequisite for any principal candidate? Should demonstrated excllence as an assistant principal also be a prerequisite?

Jon Schnur:

Yes, candidates for the principals should have demonstrated very high quality in the classroom and as leaders and managers in a formal or informal role. we see plenty of great New Leaders principals who were not assistant principasl first -- and we have seen plenty of assistant principals make great New Leaders principals too. So I would not make an AP role a requirement before becoming a principal -- especially since programs like New Leaders have year-long residencies which involve meaningful school leadership before becoming a principal.

Question from Cathy Jiles, Math Content Coach, Caddo Parish School System of Louisiana:

Does New Leaders for New Schools plan to implement a principal preparation program in Northern cities in Louisiana such as Shreveport?

Jon Schnur:

Huge opportuntity in Lousiana -- especially New Orleans. We have launched a very exciting program in New Orleans -- where we have been asked to provide nearly half of the principals needed for the New Orleans schools over the next 4 years. And there is an incredibly important urgent need and serious opportunity in New Orleans to be part of transforming and improving the New Orleans schools (as well as in other New Leaders cities liek NYC, DC, Baltimore, CHicago, Milwaukee, Oakland, Memphis, and Prince Georges COunty. feel free to look at We will look at expanding in Lousiana over time but are not yet in northern Lousiana.

Question from Thelma Farley, Executive Director Beacon Day School, Oakland, CA.:

We are having tremendously good results replacing principal with two people: Director of Education for curriculum areas and Executive Director for running the organization. We did that because we believe one person cannot be all that is now needed. Are there any training centers or is there movement or interest in persuing this approach?

Jon Schnur:

Yes, we are VERY interested in this approach. Feel free to email our California Executive Director Rod Washington at Our program there is based in Oakland and we would love to speak with you!

Question from Deb Page, Sr. Executive Director, Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement:

Getting serious about principal preparation means moving to a performance-based approach to leader preparation which ensures that developing leaders get to practice high- value leadership tasks on the job, with coaching, assessment and feedback that helps them reach competency faster than traditional preparation approaches. Our organization has developed a rigorous coach development program and an online Success Center to support expert educational leaders to coach and assess developing leaders, and work effectively with the supervisors of developing leaders to address the factors in the work and workplace which impact leader performance. What else is going on around the country to ensure that an investment made in coaching is producing evidence and measurable proof of improvement of leaders’ performance?

Gene Bottoms:

Deb, I suspect you know more about this than anyone in the country. But the bottom line will be, regardless of the effectiveness of the coaching, can an aspiring principal when he/she becomes a principal make a difference in working with faculty, district office, community and parents in a way that results in improved student achievement and helps more students prepare to successfully enter college or good careers?

Question from Vasilios Manolios, Assistant Principal, Christopher Columbus High School:

If you were hired as a new principal to increase student performance in a school that had * over 95% of incoming students not meeting the standard in middle school * close to 50% special education or ESL students * downsized due to restructuring and had been left with predominantly veteran teachers what would you do to increase student performance?

Jon Schnur:

Since we are running out of time but this is a crucial question, here is my quick advice. Find the middle schools that have made the most dramatic gains that have started with acheivement levels like you describe. And go learn what they did. One amazing example is Roxbury Prep in Boston --founded by New Leaders board member John King. the school serves low-income students and is now the HIGHEST achieving middle school in Massachusetts -- with studetns at higher levels than affluent and selective middle schools across the state. Go visit and learn! Sorry I dont have more time -- this is the right question!!

Question from Wanda Perkins, Staff Developer, Shekinah Learning Institute:

How can I prepare new principals to use data to help raise student achievement on very diverse campuses (charter schools)?

Gene Bottoms:

By taking the data for one school, analyze it and make inferences about possible changes that need to be made in the school culture, practices, the curriculum and instructional delivery. The assignment would involve not only looking at test data but observing in classrooms, interviewing groups of teachers and parents and students at the middle grades and high school level. This will engage them in looking at several sources of data and help them develop conclusions about the actions a school needs to take to advance student achievement.

Michele McNeil (Moderator):

That’s all the time we have for this chat today. Thank you for all of the great questions. And thanks to our guests, Jon Schnur of New Leaders for New Schools, and Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board. The transcript of this chat will be available at shortly.

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