Tennessee’s in the throes of implementing various teacher- and classroom-focused reforms, but an area that’s fallen through the cracks is better training and support for school principals, reports an influential state education advocacy group.
Cultivating good principals and continuing to train them are among the top four education issues the state needs to focus on in the next year, concluded the State Collaborative for Reforming Education in the 2011-2012 installment of its “State of Education in Tennessee.”
Prominent education-focused lawmakers on Capitol Hill say they agree.
“Any school you go into, you’re going to find that that school is just as strong as that principal,” said Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, the House Education Committee Chairman.
Over the last year, SCORE says the state has made “little progress” on developing a strategy for grooming and developing people to lead schools, that “more work remains to ensure that there is a statewide pipeline of effective school and district leaders.”
“District partnerships with colleges and universities, as well as non- profits and businesses, provide opportunities for building leadership pipelines that can be leveraged to broaden the pool of candidates to lead schools throughout Tennessee,” the SCORE report’s executive summary suggests. “In particular, small and rural districts should consider creating a principal pipeline through consortia models in collaboration with institutions of higher education, as these systems often lack the personnel or capacity to build effective pipelines of their own.
Better prepping of principals is an issue Tennessee’s faced for several years, said Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, who heads the Senate Education Committee.
“It’s not fair to people to put them in positions that they’re not prepared for, and we want to make sure that our principals are prepared for the jobs that they must do, that we expect them to do,” Gresham said.
The lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union agrees.
“You cannot have a good, strong school without a good, strong principal,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association. “Particularly with the emphasis on teacher quality and evaluation, you’re going to have to have principals who know what they’re doing and have the time to do it, which is a huge problem right now.”
Other issues identified by SCORE include policy leadership, focused professional development for teachers and strengthening training for the state’s future teachers, according to the group’s report, issued Tuesday.
SCORE is soliciting feedback and data on the state’s new teacher evaluation system, in use for the first time this school year. The group’s study, which is due to the governor by June 1, is in response to anxiety among educators, who point to numerous weaknesses and concerns about how they’re graded.
Montgomery says the results of that study will also help determine how the state — including the Legislature — can give principals more of the tools they need.
“That’s going to help us and give us a lot of the information. Where are the weak links? Where do we need to really concentrate our effort to get the best bang out of our buck, so to speak?” he said.