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FOCUS ON PRINCIPALS: Texas Attacks a Potential Principal Shortage

"You want to know what kind of principal you have? Look at her feet. If she's wearing heels all day, she's not spending enough time walking from classroom to classroom."

In its recent report, Every Child a Graduate, the Alliance makes the case for a Teacher and Principal Quality Initiative that encourages our best teachers and principals to work in high-need schools, to improve their skills, and to grow in their professions. While the shortage of high-quality teachers always seems to be a widely acknowledged problem, a quiet crisis involving the lack of high-quality principals is now sweeping the country.

According to a 1998 survey of 403 school districts by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, half of all respondents-elementary, middle school, and high school-believed there was a shortage of qualified principal candidates. In Texas, where about 40 percent of Texas principals will be eligible to retire in the next decade, school districts have already developed programs to fill these vacancies when they occur.

Writing for The Star-Telegram, Lamor Williams writes that the Arlington and Ft. Worth school districts employ a “grow your own” program where teachers receive principal internships, mentoring, and other training in preparation for life as school administrators.

Read The Star-Telegram article

No Excuses: Principal Gets Results in Texas Middle School

“You want to know what kind of principal you have? Look at her feet. If she’s wearing heels all day, she’s not spending enough time walking from classroom to classroom.” So begins an excellent article about Nancy Blackwell, principal for Hambrick Middle School in Houston.

Writing for The Dallas Morning News, Joshua Benton tells the story of Blackwell’s success turning Hambrick Middle School into what many consider to be Texas’ best middle school. Last year, 99.3 percent of Hambrick’s students passed the state math test; the passing rates for black, white, and Hispanic students were all about 98 percent. Such success is even more remarkable considering that more than 75 percent of Hambrick’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches and 93 percent of its seventh- and eighth-graders are minority students, many of whom are recent immigrants from Mexico.

Blackwell demanded higher expectations, sought centralized control of curriculum matters, and implemented regular testing. But first she had to eliminate gang activity. She removed all of the school’s lockers to widen hallways and eliminated all school bells to encourage calm time between classes. Afterward, she employed a strict dress code and installed metal detectors at school entrances. Blackwell’s changes at Hambrick met with resistance at first. Now, some parents use a false address so their kids can attend Hambrick.

With the structural tools in place, Blackwell then turned to more academic matters. She doubled the amount of time students spent in math and language arts and trained teachers how to best utilize the extra time. If a child continued to show weakness in math or language arts, the amount of time he or she spent in that class was doubled again, to more than three hours a day. Students were then given locally designed “checkpoint” tests that were linked to state curriculum standards.

Blackwell has not ignored teacher preparation. The school typically spends twice as much time on staff development as most schools with most of the training designed for those who teach gifted and talented students. Teachers also incorporate outside subjects into their classes: Math teachers include writing in their classes; history teachers include science.

According to Reba Cutten, the mother of an eighth grader, the school “didn’t have a very good reputation before. I almost didn’t want to send [my daughter] here when she was younger. When Ms. Blackwell came in, it was a total turnaround.”

Read the entire Dallas Morning News article


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.