Sunday, August 19, 2001

Principals an endangered species

Educators cite hours, pay and pressure for shortage

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On July 10, Anthony Strong began his job as associate principal at Campbell County High School — a position created in part to relieve daily tasks shouldered by the school's principal. Before he had a chance to settle into his office, however, Mr. Strong was asked whether he could also serve as principal on an interim basis.

        The reason: Fewer people than expected had applied for the top job, leaving fewer applicants qualified to guide student learning, said spokesman Chris Gramke.

        Campbell County High is not alone. In districts across the Tristate and the nation, drawers that used to be stuffed with dozens of principal applications now house a handful of folders. Educators cite increasing responsibilities, inadequate pay and long hours as factors in the shift.

        “The principal is like the CEO of a company,” said Roger Brady, Campbell County Schools superintendent. “He or she provides the ultimate leadership and direction for the building. It's important to have a person the community, faculty and kids all see as that leader.”

        In the Tristate, 51 school districts surveyed by the Enquirer estimate they will have to fill nearly 160 principal openings in the next five years. Administrators say those numbers are significantly higher than in past years.

        “Just because there are people certified to be principals doesn't mean (they're) interested in becoming a principal,” Mr. Brady said.

        Filling vacancies for school leaders won't be easy. But the shortage is expected to be even worse when today's college students have children. Part of the shortage in qualified applicants is linked to the graying of principals.

        Fifty-six percent of educa tion administrators are 45 or older, and 47.1 percent are expected to leave the profession between now and 2008, according to Arlene Dohm, an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

        Meanwhile, employment for education administrators is expected to grow at a rate of 10 to 20 percent through 2008.

        All this while the job description is constantly changing.

        Principals today are increasingly expected to help raise student test scores, said Joseph Murphy, president of the Ohio Principals Leadership Academy.

        The academy, created in 1999, offers a variety of training opportunities, including sessions on curriculum, leadership, development and assessment.

        Before the so-called accountability movement began in the 1990s, the role of principal was similar to a business manager. They made sure buses ran smoothly, hired staff, crafted the school's budget and kept an eye on the cafeteria.

        As accountability became part of job duties, principals were forced to become “instructional leaders” as well, Mr. Murphy said.

Conditions not appealing
        Campbell County Schools thought it had the answer to easing the principal's job. That's why Mr. Strong was hired as an associate principal — a new position that effectively divides the principal job in two.

        The associate principal aids the principal by overseeing attendance, custodial work and transportation, supervising personnel and assistant principals, assisting in recruiting staff, handling student discipline issues and more.

        “We've created an environment that makes it easier for a principal to do what we want them to do — be an instructional leader,” Mr. Brady said.

        However, the high school's Site Based Decision-Making Council — which has a final say on principals — could not find the right person to fill the principal slot. That left Mr. Strong, who said he's up for the challenge to assume both roles, albeit with the help of three assistants.

        Pay is another key issue for principal candidates. In a 1998 study by the Educational Research Service, 60 percent of superintendents surveyed said applicants are discouraged by pay that doesn't measure up to duties.

        “The increasing responsibilities are what may make people have second thoughts about pursuing that (career),” said Barbara Rider, superintendent of Norwood Schools.

        In Norwood, two principals — the highest-paid in the district — were hired this year at $78,000 for a 227-day year. That's about $344 a day. A top teacher in the district with a master's degree makes $62,695 for a 183-day year, or $343 a day.

        Carole Roberts, a newly retired Cincinnati Public Schools principal, said she earned more as a teacher in 1994 — about $65,000 — than when she became a CPS assistant principal in 1995 — about $52,000.

        When Ms. Roberts became a principal in 1997, her pay was about $58,000, she said, adding that she accepted the pay cut because she loved the job and wanted to lead.

        Ms. Roberts took a principal's job in Florida for more pay. She said she worries about CPS' ability to recruit principal candidates.

        “The inequities in administrator salaries are ridiculous,” she said.

        CPS spokeswoman Jan Leslie said the principal pay has not kept pace with the market. This fall, CPS will start the year with seven interim principals.

        The CPS Board of Education is trying to remedy the pay discrepancy. On July 23, board members approved spending $500,000 of the district's 2001-02 budget on increasing principals' salaries.

        But for some school leaders, pay is just one factor. On-the-job stress was cited second-most often by superintendents in the Educational Research Service study as a reason why candidates are discouraged from pursuing principalships.

        “It's a tough job — even for a workaholic,” said Ken Lockard, former principal at Latonia Elementary in Covington Independent Schools.

        Mr. Lockard, 37, stepped down this year from his role as principal. Instead, the father of three will serve as assistant principal at Ninth District Elementary.

        When he was a principal at Lato nia, his days began at 7 a.m. and usually ended by 5 p.m. But more often than he liked, the days stretched beyond sundown as he sifted through mounds of paperwork and made appearances at school concerts, sports events, PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

        He said he hated having his kids dropped off at school just to see their father.

        In 2000, the same school year Mr. Lockard came on board as principal, the 4,500-student district received a state audit that criticized management and instruction in the district. Pressure was on the principals to improve performance.

        “Ultimately, you're responsible for everything at the school,” he said. “The central office tells you you have to delegate out, but eventually everything comes back to the principal.”

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