Should principals come from education backgrounds?

March 22, 2011

By Staff

Legislators consider bill to answer question

A bill pushing to allow noneducators to work as school principals does not sit well with those now on the job.

Josh Almy, Ed Marcoe and Ron Thiele, all who have served as principals and teachers, said that while a few exceptional leaders might succeed in the principal world under the auspices of the bill, the majority of incoming principals would benefit if they tried their hand at teaching first.

“The educational system acts a little different from the private sector,” said Almy, principal of Beaver Lake Middle School. “If I were coming in from the private sector, the learning curve would be pretty steep.”

To which state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said leadership is leadership.

House Bill 1593, which Anderson co-sponsored, passed the House and sits in the Senate this week. If it becomes law, it would allow noneducators to become principals.

“It’s an alternative certification path for individuals who are not certified educators,” Anderson said. “We have an opportunity to find well-qualified people to become principals.”

The program, which school districts would opt into, would be reviewed after one year, Anderson said.

Under the program, a school district must recommend an applicant to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which would review his or her qualifications.

Candidates would receive intensive mentoring for at least one school year, the bill reads.

“The idea is not to throw someone in and say, ‘Sink or swim,’” Anderson said.

If the OSPI considers the applicant satisfactory, he or she receives a provisional principal certificate, good for up to three years.

During that time, the holder may work as a principal in one school district.

Provisional certificates would expire if the holder is fired or determined to have failed to achieve progress toward completing the program.

After year three, the OSPI would decide whether to issue a permanent certificate.

The bill passed the House by a 79-18 vote.

“There’s pretty broad support for it,” said Anderson, who sponsored the bill along with 11 other lawmakers from Washington.

Now, most principals are required to have a master’s degree in a state-approved administration program.

Marcoe, principal at Tiger Mountain Community High School, said the current system often requires educators to climb the ranks, with steps along the way including teacher, department head, assistant principal and, finally, principal.

Marcoe said having experience at each of these steps helps him manage his staff and students.

“I just think being in the business is most helpful,” he said. “I don’t think Boeing would want me building an airplane.”

Associate Superintendent Thiele, a former principal, agreed.

“For my own professional opinion, my own judgment as longtime administrator, I think that classroom experience as a teacher is very valuable to being an effective administrator,” he said.

Thiele said district administrators had yet to review the details of the bill, but said a small population of leaders might do well under the new system if it were passed.

“I do believe in the value of having been a classroom teacher, however I am not prepared to say that is a must,” he said. “An alternative path, if it were rigorous enough and covered the important aspects of being a principal, may be appropriate.”

Still, he said there was no shortage of principals that he was aware of in Issaquah School District.

Anderson said the bill is not an indictment of the performance of the state’s school principals, just a new idea.

“We need as much innovation as we can get, and we have to do it in a responsible manner,” he said. “I think this was responsible.”

Almy said his history in the classroom and as an assistant principal has made him privy to the evolution and setbacks of education.

“From a curricula and instructional standpoint, I’ve seen the changes in the education system from when I started in 1995 to where we are now,” he said. “I proctored the very first WASL test in 1996.

“I feel like those experiences have given me a pretty good handle on the job and where we need to go,” he said.

Anderson mixed optimism and caution when talking about the bill’s chances in the Senate and beyond.

“We’ll find out what the results are,” he said. “We’ll see how many think this will be a viable alternative.”

Every school district is different, he added, which might work in the bill’s favor if it becomes law.

“Some will embrace it, some will see it as a threat,” he said. “But it’s not a mandate. It’s just an opportunity to innovate.”

Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or smoraga@snovalleystar.com. Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241 or lgeggel@issaquahpress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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Comments

One Response to “Should principals come from education backgrounds?”

  1. Melissa Westbrook on March 24th, 2011 8:46 am

    “leadership is leadership”? Obviously Rep. Anderson doesn’t know that the primary job of a principal is to be the ACADEMIC leader of a school (ask any principal or superintendent) . That means being the academic leader who supports and guides the teaching corps.

    Yes, a principal is also a disciplinarian, a manager and a public relations person. But the first job is academics. Someone with zero background in education is not going to be able to do the primary job well.

    In Seattle, our teachers, Superintendent and School Board signed a new contract with new assessments. Then the principals’ union signed a new contract, with more money in it for them, based on the assessments the principals will have to be making of teachers.

    If I were a teacher, I would not want some principal who knows zero about pedagogy and class management to do my assessments. (Imagine someone off the street came into where you work and was told to assess your work. They watch you for 30 minutes and then make an assessment that becomes your job performance rating. How thrilled would you be?)

    And, if you were a teacher with a non-educator principal, you would likely demand and get someone who IS qualified to judge your work. That means bringing in someone to the school (at an extra cost) to assess your work. Most districts don’t have that kind of extra money.

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