State pushes better training for current, future principals
The Arizona Republic
May. 25, 2007

Pat Kossan

 Too many working principals in Arizona are not up to the job, and future ones now in college are getting poor training, the state reports.

Many principals have failed to make the leap from managing a school to managing the educational progress of each student, state officials say. New evaluations show the state's three universities are failing to give new principals enough practical training to be effective in schools.

Good principals are critical in turning around poorly performing schools and keeping good teachers on the job, research shows. Toward that end, state officials are willing to shake up the status quo.

"For the first time in history, we have made some really tough evaluations of the universities' leadership training programs," Arizona schools chief Tom Horne said. "And a number of them are facing the possibility of not being recommended for certification by the State Board (of Education)."

University programs are unfocused and loosely run, and there is little evidence that graduates meet state or national standards, according to the state's first comprehensive review of graduate programs in education.

The state gave the universities a year to make big changes, but it isn't waiting.

With help from grant money, the state sent out 34 principal coaches to schools this year. Next year, it will launch "Principal Academies," which will provide a series of workshops for new principals in Maricopa and Pinal counties. Sixty of the principals will get one-on-one coaching. The state also is creating a trained pool of principal coaches, and district and charter schools can pay these coaches to mentor principals.

The job of principal is much different from what it was six years ago, when federal and state laws changed abruptly and ushered in an era of high-stakes accountability and quality measurements. Not everyone has kept up.

Principals no longer can just run buildings and keep teachers and parents happy, said Tom Hansen, a former principal who works as one of the state's coaches. They must do all that plus know how to translate student test scores and quickly determine which students and teachers are falling behind.
Then, they have tricks and tools to intercede and make improvements.

"That's one of the main things principals have to do now: Go in the classroom and determine if the kids are connecting or if they're withdrawing," Hansen said.

Those who don't have the skills are in trouble.

State and federal laws give principals no place to hide if their students, including those learning English or those from poor families, are not doing grade-level work.

Hansen worked with Isaac Perez, who took over Gila Bend Elementary School in
2004 as a first-year principal when it was ranked as a failing school. Perez turned it into a performing school his first year.

Every new principal should have an experienced guide to help them brainstorm solutions to problems, Perez said. Some districts provide that guidance to new principals. Most don't.

"You learn a lot of theory in school and classrooms," said Perez, who graduated from Northern Arizona University's principal program.

He learned useful things: policy, documentation, law. He was lucky and did some field work in an alternative high school that met in the evening.

"It would have been good to have someone like a Tom Hansen," Perez said, adding that Hansen was a great guide to observing the things teachers do right and wrong.

"He can go into a classroom and recognize things very quick and then I caught on also," Perez added. "That's experience."

Some leaders of the university programs admit their schools haven't kept up.

In the past, universities were required to submit paper descriptions of their programs and their graduates were put on a preferred status list by the State Board of Education for up to five years. That means their graduates got quick action at the state's licensing office and paid less for their licenses, and the universities got confirmation that they offered cohesive training that meets state and national standards.

But this year, paper wasn't enough. The state board sent teams of educators from K-12 schools and colleges to review individual teacher and principal training programs, visit classrooms and talk to professors, students and advisers.

The teams found most teacher-training programs were improving and gave them preferred status for the next two to five years. But principal-training programs across the board were put on notice: Clean up and catch up or lose preferred status.

State evaluators said the required major project for one of the University of Arizona's master programs had few parameters other than "a beginning, middle and end."

They reported that NAU's principal internships lacked structure, organization and measurement. Daniel Kain, dean of NAU's College of Education, said it's complicated for universities to work around teachers'

The state told Arizona State University it was focusing on the wrong things, said Nicholas Appleton, interim director of ASU's Leadership and Policy Studies, who has yet to see the state's final written report. Appleton said ASU's focus is on general and broad conceptions of leadership and how to build a school community, while the state's emphasis is on student performance and curriculum.

"We think academic progress is important, but we're looking at educational leadership and teaching in a much broader sense than high-stakes tests,"
Appleton said. "It's a different philosophical orientation to what education is all about."

Schools chief Horne said he is aware some university leaders are upset. He agrees a principal needs to be a leader and create teaching teams, but he wants training to include practical knowledge that helps to understand testing data.

"The outstanding principal is one that does a lot of testing to make sure everyone's on track," Horne said, "and to get a signal when someone is not on track."

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