MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Principals are often the most senior people walking the hallways of our public schools. But hanging onto a good principal and getting rid of what might be a not-so-good one is a difficult process, one that, in D.C. at least, has been overshadowed by the intense focus on evaluating teachers.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Well, that's changing. As Kavitha Cardoza tells us, DCPS has created a new evaluation tool for principals and school officials are now getting the first results.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Being a principal is, by almost any measure, a difficult job. You have to make sure the school is safe for students, meet parents, support teachers and you have to know when you're treading on thin ice.
MS. MICHELLE RHEE
No, I'm terminating your principal-ship now.
That's a PBS video of former chancellor Michelle Rhee firing a principal in 2007. It generated controversy and brought firings into sharp focus.
MS. HILLARY DIERLECK
When a principal is not performing and sometimes that means making a difficult decision about whether or not they should return. But it's not always the way that it was depicted in that video.
That's Hillary Dierleck. She's responsible for recruiting, supporting and compensating principals in DCPS. She says research shows principals are critical part of a school's success.
Principals are responsible for everything that happens in a school building and most importantly, are responsible for making sure that every child in their building is learning.
Dierleck says holding principals accountable for a school's success is critical and the new evaluation tool being used by DCPS makes principals and teachers equally responsible for student achievement.
We think that's critical. Teachers are held accountable for 50 percent of their evaluation on student achievement. Principals are also held accountable for 50 percent of their evaluation on student achievement outcomes.
This 50 percent is based mainly on street numbers. Where the students have met their federal learning targets and their standardized tests, how much students have improved compared to the previous year and whether they've met school specific goals.
So at the high school level it might be SAT scores. It might be advanced placement scores or it might be, in a particular school, if there's a subgroup that's really struggling. So if there's special education students or English language learners, the school may choose to set targets around how much they want to improve those outcomes.
The other 50 percent is what's called leadership outcomes. At least twice a month, an outside evaluator is in their schools, observing principals and speaking to staff. They're also evaluated on whether they can hold onto high-performing teachers.
Many of them voice concerns, but through conversations, I think they also realize that is their job to make it a school community where teachers want to be and they know a critical factor in their success as a school is keeping their best teachers in the building.
Anna Jefferson is president of the Council of School Officers, which represents principals. She says the new evaluation process encourages school leaders to make decisions that are popular rather than right since it includes feedback from parents and the community and she says principals often don't feel comfortable speaking up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
Principals are on a one-year appointment. So they can be non-reappointed without due process and without just cause and so they have to be very careful how they protest or how they push back on anything that they don't like.
All this may contribute to what's called churn and burn or high turnover among principals. There are 125 principals in DCPS and in 2007, approximately a third didn't return to their jobs. Every year after that, the principal turnover has generally been 20 to 25 percent.
DCPS wouldn't provide an exact breakdown of how many were fired and how many left for other reasons. Jeff Smith, who heads "D.C. Voice," a community advocacy group, says they found veteran school leaders got students involved with college and career plans earlier on. They also had more time to build relationships with parents and the community.
MR. JEFF SMITH
And those are really developed with individuals not with the school system. It takes time to (unintelligible) those partnerships and then some continued leadership to manage them.
Dierleck agrees having a new principal in a school can be a challenge.
There is getting used to a new manager and getting used to a new style and getting used to a potentially new vision and direction for where they want to take the school.
Dierleck says this new evaluation system will help set expectations for everywhere. But in the end, if a principal isn't the right fit, she says, it's better to end the relationship.
Sometimes the turnover is important and critical to drive change at the school and not just keep at where it was and on the same path.
The average principal's salary is $115,000 and Dierleck says DCPS is working on a system of bonuses, similar to that of teachers, which they hope will be in place soon. Principals will get their evaluations in July and will then know whether they have their jobs for another year. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
We've got a copy of the evaluation booklet used for principals. You can find it at our website, metroconnection.org.
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