Causes and proven solutions to the looming leadership gap

By Randy Davis, Ed.D., director of strategic partnerships, TalentEd

As the baby-boom generation departs the educational arena, there is a great need for a new generation of leaders to step in and grasp the reigns, becoming the leaders responsible for the overall performance of the system and continuing the student-focused discourse within the four walls of the schoolhouse. As Parker Palmer wrote in The Courage to Teach, “if we are to have communities of discourse about teaching and learning — communities that are intentional about the topics to be pursued and the ground rules to be practiced — we need leaders who can call people toward that vision.”

Further, the National Association of Secondary School Principals addressed the principal shortage through the Institute for Education Statistics, which stated 20 percent of principals working in schools in FY12 left their school by FY13. Additionally, “one out of every two principals is not retained beyond their third year of leading a school.” By 2022, “the demand for elementary, middle and high school principals will grow 6 percent nationwide,” due to population increases. Districts can expect to spend between $36,580 and $303,000 recruiting, hiring and developing each new principal.

What if a district could stack the deck in favor of preparation, mentoring and continuous learning even before realizing the depths of these shortages?

In the schoolhouse, we have many formal and informal leaders who possess the talent to develop into the next generation of administrators. It is the responsibility of currently seated administrators to identify and prepare the talent pipeline for future administrative job openings, yet many fear that after preparation, developed talent will migrate to leadership positions outside the district.

However, that fear should not stop progress; a well-trained leader will realize success in other venues and quite possibly model the program they experienced, elevating educational leadership across communities. Rather than stalling leadership preparation due to fear of what may happen, current K-12 leaders should focus on the endgame: creating a team of leaders who will step up to the administration challenge.

Leading districts are already creating internal programs to develop and prepare aspiring leaders. By no means is there a boiler-plate panacea for all to plug into their situation — developing a solution takes perseverance and should be tailored to a district’s unique circumstances. Yet we can all learn from the successes at Papillion La Vista Community Schools, Jefferson County Schools and Boerne Independent School District.

Papillion La Vista: Recruitment and preparation through higher education partnership

Renee Hyde, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of human resources at Papillion La Vista Community Schools in Papillion, Nebraska, identified a need to cultivate her district’s leadership pipeline after realizing leaders were resigning and retiring. As an adjunct in higher education, Hyde had unique vision to solve this problem through programming and recruitment.

Working closely with the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO), Hyde identified core competencies leaders need when entering a new administrative leadership position and helped form a cadre program, which employs new leaders one-half time as an assistant principal and one-half time as a mentor. After completing extensive UNO-provided training on how to coach new teachers, the future leader provides group and individual mentoring to two new district teachers enrolled in UNO’s accelerated 14-month master’s degree program.

Hyde also developed a leadership cohort that is taught by her administrative cabinet, meets state requirements for administrators and offers graduate credit to participants. But professional development doesn’t end with formal education — once leaders are hired into the system, individualized professional learning begins.

The district established an administrator development program that meets weekly to discuss topics such as curriculum and instruction, business and communications, human resources and student services, and data technology. New administrators also meet with Hyde over lunch once or twice per month, and participants determine the agenda. First-year administrators are required to attend. After that, attendance is voluntary. Second-year administrators tend to regularly attend the lunch meetings, and third-year administrators attend as needed.

Hyde reports success with this approach but is still concerned with the pipeline, as she expects the teacher shortage will eventually impact the leadership shortage as well.

Jefferson County Schools: Individualized professional learning and development

Joseph Pettiford, Chief Human Resources Officer for Jefferson County Schools in Charles Town, West Virginia, also developed a leadership program for up-and-coming leaders to prepare for an impending challenge: 25 percent of his district’s principals will be eligible to retire within the next five years.

Pettiford sees the exodus of leadership as a loss of institutional knowledge and helped build upon a leadership program initiated by Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson, Ed.D. Through a nomination process, the district identifies potential future leaders, invites them to participate and administers the Principal EPI (Educators Professional Inventory). This inventory helps Pettiford build an individualized professional development plan for each participant, taking professional learning to the next level — differentiated instruction for adults.

A new cohort has started the program for each of the past three years, and, similar to Papillion La Vista Community Schools’ model, Jefferson County Schools’ participants work with both internal and external leaders to develop a foundational knowledge of campus administration. Pettiford even asks cohort graduates to return as guest speakers, sharing their experiences with those aspiring to become formal leaders.

Boerne Independent School District: Homegrown succession planning

As Chief Human Resources Officer for Boerne Independent School District in Boerne, TX, Elaine Howard, Ed.D., frequently calls upon her experience developing programs to identify and train teacher leaders and next-generation administrators.

Howard helped build the district’s homegrown approach to succession planning and leader development — establishing compensation structures that delineate participants’ career pathways and giving future teacher leaders and up-and-coming administrators exposure to leadership in desired roles. Whether at the building or district level, this exposure not only gives internal candidates a leg up on outside applicants but also gives Howard a snapshot of the talent pool and a working knowledge of participants’ strengths.

Howard reports success in a two-level approach to leadership development — the first for candidates aspiring to become leaders. Each year, a group of aspiring leaders transition through a cohort, garnering exposure not only at the theoretical level, but also the practical level. Leaders will assume roles within the district leadership, such as coordinating summer school, facilitating registration of incoming students, etc.

The second level of training focuses on hands-on refining of leadership skills, available to teacher leaders already in assignment and sitting administrators. These leader candidates often assist with district-level decision-making and help develop other leaders in the future.

These are just three examples of districts that identified unique situations related to the development of the next generation of schoolhouse leaders. Our hopes are that these examples challenge thinking and become a call to action for more HR leaders to create a program that is unique to their district and begins to address the looming leadership gap.

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