To the Editor:
I read with gratitude each piece of Education Week‘s special report on principals (“Principals Under Pressure,” October 17, 2018). As it demonstrates, a principal’s job is demanding, complex, and rewarding; it also requires incredible vision, focus, and passion. One element the series missed was the role that districts and nonprofits can play in systemically supporting principals.
We don’t have to wait for a principal to report being “overwhelmed” to assign them a coach. We can look at the data and see that almost all first-year principals need help with time management and system creation. We can proactively offer those supports long before they ask. The formula for more systematic support is simple: Ask principals what they need, identify programs that meet those needs, and match programs to people.
My organization—The Chicago Public Education Fund—surveyed all Chicago public school principals in 2018 and had an 82 percent response rate. We partnered with the district and the city’s charter networks to design programming for 300 principals in response to principals’ concerns. Nearly 40 principals are receiving the kind of time-management supports highlighted in the report, and others are receiving specific instructional supports or help with culture and climate. More than 150 of the principals are learning directly from a colleague on myriad topics including equity in decision-making, effectively serving diverse learners and providing student social-emotional supports.
Principals in these programs are 60 percent more likely to improve, and Chicago’s principal retention rate is significantly higher than the urban district average. If we wait until principals say they need help, we are already too late. We must take a proactive approach to support, or we will keep losing too many principals, too soon.
President and CEO
The Chicago Public Education Fund
A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2018 edition of Education Week as Principals Need Access to Support