Frequent turnover hinders learning

June 3, 2011, 11:49 p.m. | 9 years, 5 months ago

This article was written by the Silver Chips Print Editorial Board and is intended to represent the official views of the newspaper.

Principal Williams's "exciting and sad news" that he will leave Blair to take the position of community superintendent has largely left teachers and students disappointed and skeptical.

Williams's four-year tenure at Blair has been remarkably shorter than former Principal Phillip Gainous's 23-year stay, and MCPS's decision to offer him a promotion after he saw just one class cycle through Blair seems calculated — as if Blair was just another rung in the ladder; or in this case, the key to a job in central office.

In the interest of eliminating this "stepping stone" strategy to which schools like Blair gain and lose administrators at breakneck speed, MCPS needs to take a critical look at the Leadership Development Program (LDP) that prepares teachers for administrative jobs.

When administrators use positions at Blair, a strong résumé-builder with its high-scoring students and renowned programs, as a springboard to jobs higher up in the MCPS bureaucracy, they are helping themselves at the expense of the rest of the school. After all, it's hard to forge meaningful relationships with staff and students when one is barely there long enough to get to know them.

That's not to say that Blair has been completely devoid of positive changes under Mr. Williams's leadership. In fact, in 2008, after Mr. Williams' first year, Blair made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the first time since 2005, and has made AYP every year since then. In addition, the 2010 graduation rate increased after five years of decline. These accomplishments are commendable, but speak only to statistics. Quantifiable indicators of school progress are important, but so are the relationships with administrators, staff and students. In order to have the most productive leadership overall, administrators, especially principals, must stay long enough to know how best to run a particular school.

A 2005 study by the University of Maine found that principals are integral to the overall health and success of a school and can personally influence student learning. The practice of constant administrative promotion takes these influential individuals from the schools they know best. But principal turnover is an increasing trend, with the average stay of a principal decreasing from 8.1 years to 6.9 between 1997 and 2005.

The current LDP only reaffirms these findings. Under the framework outlined by the program, an aspiring administrator could make the leap from teacher to principal in just five years. This rushed timeline promotes constant reshuffling of administrators. An administrator could spend just two years as an assistant principal of one school before being promoted to principal of another. As lucrative as some of these positions — and the salaries that accompany them — may be, they can lead to an ever-changing school administration that is too fleeting to ever become particularly attuned to the unique environment and needs of an individual school. In an effort to promote stability in school leadership, the LDP should focus on keeping administrators for the long term, instead of endlessly promoting them.

So with Renay Johnson's appointment, we hope that MCPS deviates from this unfortunate practice of placing principals with the intent to push them up the ladder in just a few years. Expecting a reprisal of Mr. Gainous's legendary decades-long leadership is probably unrealistic, but having a principal who views Blair as not just a springboard, but as a long-term commitment, is not. Doing so would ensure a sense of consistency that could help Blair improve even more in the years to come.

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