Unfortunately, the norm as it relates to hot topics throughout the realm of education has seen some (topics) that for better or for worse, routinely find themselves headlining media platforms or at the forefront of public discourse. ‘General’ matters and buzzwords that relate to education reform efforts such as: high-stakes testing, common core standards, and teacher evaluations are amongst those ‘hot topics’ referenced that tend to fall into this category. As a result, much of the deeper discussion(s) or in-depth analysis actually taking place (on these topics or others) is often overlooked.
One such example lies in the area of leadership turnover in schools throughout Dallas ISD. As highlighted back in a July story run by Dallas Morning News, 71 of 222 (or about 32%) Dallas ISD schools were slated to begin the 2015/2016 school year with a different principal (note these numbers could have changed in the past month) – a figure that should stand out even to those not involved in the education space. On this note, the academic research that points to the critical nature of having a strong school leader in place is rather indisputable – with such research supporting bold conclusions that schools with strong leaders have stronger school cultures, stronger ties with their communities, and most importantly, boast higher levels of student academic achievement. With such strong evidence behind these claims, why then has the discussion around such high leadership turnover within the Dallas ISD community gained very little traction?
As is the case within any system or sector, high-levels of turnover are detrimental to all stakeholders involved in the relationship. When speaking about campus-level leadership, high turnover impacts students, staff, and community alike. Developing a strong school culture takes time (years), trust, and collective buy-in from those with a vested interest in the schools’ success. School (or district) transformation does not occur overnight – and certainly does not occur with constant churn at the campus leadership level. If true school transformation is the expectation, then districts must ensure school leaders are adequately prepared, provided with time, given appropriate levels of autonomy, and also, develop and implement authentic support measures that allow for professional growth and development opportunities for these leaders. In its current state (at a district level), neither these systems, nor structures are in place at a high enough quality to avoid such churn.
Before closing, I do not want to overlook the fact that several organizations at both a national and local level (such as Teaching Trust) have made great strides in beginning to address quality school leadership development. With that said, organizations such as these could certainly use the support of their communities to make more noise and ask/demand the answers to difficult questions such as:
- What is the driver behind high levels of principal turnover?
- What supports are in place to support new principals?
- Why are so many principals being reassigned to new schools (as opposed to being asked to simply leave the district)?
- What are viewed as the most effective principal preparation programs in the area/region/nationally – and how many of these principals are being recruited to come to Dallas ISD?
The intent of asking such questions is not to point fingers, but rather, to collectively identify and address a major systematic problem within our school district (and other districts across the country). By shying away from asking these questions, or furthermore, by not bringing them to the discussion table, we severely jeopardize the quality of our schools for students, teachers, and the community.