Executive Perspective

Pipeline Program Prepares Principals
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, August 2019

WE KNOW FROM our members that school districts are facing a growing need to develop talented educators to lead schools. AASA has highlighted for years the need for developing a “deep bench,” a strong pipeline of talented educators ready for leadership roles when current leaders retire.

Recently, The Wallace Foundation released an important new study, “Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable and Effective Way to Improve Schools.” The six-year study delved into the preparation, selection, evaluation and support for the leaders of our school buildings. We know from the findings that a systematic process for identifying and developing school leaders yields positive results for learners.

For more than a decade, six urban school districts have been engaged in studying the effectiveness of intentional principal pipelines that recruit, train, select and support leaders. The districts are Denver, Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina, Gwinnett County in Georgia, Hillsborough County in Florida, Prince George’s County in Maryland and the New York City Department of Education.

The study shows that schools with principals trained using pipeline strategies outperformed comparison schools in reading and math, with the effect being greatest in elementary and middle schools. Schools with the lowest quartile of achievement showed the largest gains. Principals in pipeline districts also were more likely to remain in their positions than comparison principals.

A Cohesive Whole
The four components of the Principal Pipeline Initiative appear to work as a cohesive whole. Those parts are (1) using leader standards, (2) providing preservice preparation of assistant principals, (3) hiring and placing principals selectively and (4) providing on-the-job induction, evaluation and support. The importance of support for principals holds implications for principal supervisors and the standards that guide their work. There also are implications for policies and procedures that need to be reviewed and/or changed in school districts as a result of implementing principal pipelines.

The Wallace study demonstrates that implementing a principal pipeline initiative is feasible, affordable and effective. Strategies were feasible in that they were able to be implemented in all six districts and affordable with the cost of less than 0.5 percent of district budgets. Use of leader tracking systems, databases with longitudinal information about current and aspiring principals that sup-ports decision making in principal selection, hiring and support is a key strategy. Development of purposeful clinical experiences that support newly appointed principals for their first three to five years increases effectiveness.

The Wallace Principal Pipeline Initiative study clearly demonstrates that districts matter in shaping school leadership. I had an opportunity to discuss the pipeline work with Jody Spiro of The Wallace Foundation, who has led this work. She joined me recently for an AASA Radio segment to discuss findings of the Principal Pipeline Initiative. Our discussion focused on how an effective principal pipeline can benefit parents, community and business leaders and, most importantly, students.
As Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation, stated, “We now have compelling and meaningful evidence that pipelines can be a major strategy for large districts to improve schools and raise student achievement.”

Partnership Programs
Influenced by our work with Wallace, AASA also offers programs it developed to support principal growth. In conjunction with the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, we offer a Principal Supervisor Development Program for central-office leaders who are responsible for supporting principals’ instructional leadership training.

In July, in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, we began a National Aspiring Principals Academy. In line with creating a strong principal pipeline, this yearlong professional learning experience follows the cohort model developed by AASA to support aspiring principals in their quest for the next leadership level.

Also, in July, the National Principal Leadership Institute, in a collaborative effort with AASA, held its annual event in New York City, attracting hundreds of superintendents, principals and assistant principals from around the country. Themed “Ramping up for the next decade,” the week offered experiential learning and personal coaching to challenge the thinking and practice of school leaders.

The Wallace Principal Pipeline Initiative has served as a model for AASA to create a Superintendent Pipeline Initiative. We began by developing the National Superintendent Certification Program and followed up with aspiring programs, focusing on women and urban leaders.

is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan