By Joseph Hedger
In the wake of the teacher shortages and mental health stressors that schools across the country have experienced, a few state boards of education in 2022 directed federal relief funding toward retaining effective school principals and better preparing aspiring ones to meet the challenges of pandemic recovery. As of September 2022, states had dedicated $1.4 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to educator workforce initiatives and $480 million specifically to programs targeting school leaders.
Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues outline the scope of the challenge for school districts and states in a recent Wallace Foundation report. “Few principals have had access to the kinds of comprehensive programs or learning structures that support their success, and access is variable across states due to differences in policies and available resources,” they write. “There is much that states and districts can do to foster and support high-quality principal learning.”
According to the authors, high-quality principal preservice preparation programs exhibit rigorous recruitment of candidates, close school district–university partnerships, cohort groupings, mentor- and coach-guided learning experiences, and a focus on positive school culture and meeting diverse needs.
Illinois, which has for many years required field-based experiences for principals, reinvigorated its efforts in April 2022 with a $1.2 million set-aside in federal ESSER funds to relaunch a principal mentoring program. The program matches first-year principals with veteran principals using a network of state-selected regional providers.
North Carolina took steps in 2022 to retain existing principals. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt unveiled a plan in August to use ESSER III funds to compensate principals who would have been hurt by a state budget provision that calculated their salaries based solely on student performance during the 2021–22 school year. Due to COVID, some historically high-performing principals would have lost as much as $18,000 in salary under the provision. In January 2023, the state board voted in favor of using $4.5 million to compensate the affected principals.
In October, the board also approved making a set of recommendations to the General Assembly to clarify state laws around requirements for principal candidates. The board recommended letting principal candidates submit a portfolio for review, rather than taking the state licensure exam, to prove they are ready for the job.
The Utah state board dedicated approximately $772,000 in ESSER II funding for the Utah Principal Supervisor Academy, which was launched in partnership with WestED and the University of Utah to provide free professional development for local and regional administrators to build capacity to attract, retain, and support strong principals. Regional cohort learning sessions began in October 2022.
State boards can also include goals for principal preparation and professional development in their strategic plans. At a special meeting on December 1, 2022, the Hawaii State Board of Education reviewed an early version of its new plan. One of the plan’s three priorities is ensuring that all students have high-quality teachers and all schools are led by highly qualified principals. The plan connects this goal with outcomes in recruitment and hiring practices, retention, mentoring, and personnel support systems.