School & District Management

Principals’ Groups Studying Idea of Merger

By Jeff Archer — March 10, 2004 3 min read
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The national school principal groups are looking into a possible merger, a move that would create a 60,000-member organization with the potential to wield considerable clout in education policymaking.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have formed a study team to explore what it would take to combine the groups into a single national organization.

In announcing the effort last week, the associations stressed that their aim was to better understand the challenges and benefits posed by a merger, rather than set in motion a process leading to one. The NAESP and NASSP memberships would have to vote on any merger decision.

“I think both boards are saying: ‘This issue continues to come up; let’s get the facts first, before we take any action,’” said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based association for elementary principals.

Both Mr. Ferrandino and his counterpart, Gerald N. Tirozzi of the secondary school leaders’ group, said the push for a merger comes largely from the state level. Already, their affiliates in 30 states are merged. In Pennsylvania, the state’s elementary and secondary school principal groups combined last summer.

The national associations already bear many similarities. Each has some 30,000 members, who are charged about $200 a year in dues. Both are led by executive directors who formerly served as state commissioners of education in Connecticut.

“When you look at our legislative positions, we’re probably 90 percent in line with each other,” said Mr. Tirozzi, whose organization is based in Reston, Va.

Even without merging, the organizations have begun to pool resources. In each of the past two summers, they’ve jointly hosted a “leadership academy” in the Washington area for about 400 members from both groups. Mr. Ferrandino and Mr. Tirozzi also co-write regular newspaper columns on education issues.

Still, a merger would require resolving differences in the groups’ governance. The elementary principals’ association elects its president by a vote of the entire membership, while representatives of each state cast ballots for a national leader for the secondary principals’ organization.

Some Difference on Roles

The organizations’ boards also are different sizes, and they divide the country into different regions.

Another difference is that nearly a third of the secondary school association’s efforts are devoted to organizing student activities—including the National Honor Society and the National Association of Student Councils—while the elementary-level group focuses almost exclusively on school administration.

Members of the NAESP also would have to be convinced that NASSP has put behind its management problems that arose just before Mr. Tirozzi came on board. Six years ago, the secondary principals’ association ousted its executive director amid financial concerns. (“Under Tirozzi, NASSP Looks to Brighter Future,” March 17, 1999.)

Although maintaining that the NASSP is fiscally sound, Mr. Tirozzi said his organization is down to about 31,500 members from about 34,000 when he arrived in 1999. NAESP officials say their membership has grown slightly over the past three years, from about 28,500 to 30,000 now.

Some observers see much to be gained by forming a unified association. Michael D. Usdan, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, said the push for greater school accountability has brought unprecedented new demands to bear on the principalship in recent years.

“The role is just shifting under their feet,” said Mr. Usdan, whose own institute supports efforts to improve educational leadership. “And so there is a need for the strongest kind of advocacy and for understanding the complexity of the position.”

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