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Reports raise concerns about stability of principal corps in Philly schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With the District rethinking the role of school autonomy in curriculum, ACTION United and Education Voters of Pennsylvania released separate reports this week on principal turnover and principal leadership.

ACTION United’s report “Revolving Doors: Findings from Philadelphia’s Highest-Poverty Schools” is the first in a series of reports concerning the turnover of teachers and principals in high-poverty schools.

ACTION United looked at 236 District-run schools for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years and concluded that the highest-poverty schools in the District are also the ones with the highest principal-turnover rate. In 2010, ACTION United released a report on teacher turnover that found that high-poverty schools tended to have teachers with fewer years of experience.

Education Voters took a more qualitative stance in its report, “Principles for Principals: The Role of Principal Leadership in Philadelphia.” The group assessed factors that contribute to a school’s success, as well as barriers and obstacles that a school may face, through interviews with numerous principals, educators, District leaders, and policy experts.

“There’s something going on with these schools that aren’t allowing principals to be successful,” said Elly Porter-Webb, ACTION United member and principal author of that group’s report.

Porter-Webb and ACTION United suggested that principal experience and longevity be included in annual reports of District schools.

“We know that if you have more experience on the job, then you will be more effective. Once principals have the skills to be effective, they’re more likely to stay, even at higher-poverty schools,” Porter-Webb said.

Both ACTION United and Education Voters called for the District to develop a strong support system for principals, with specifics determined at the school level.

“We didn’t get into the specifics because we don’t feel like we are the right people to be asking. I think that is a question that is to be asked of principals, and I think that all too often, principals aren’t asked what supports that they need. And the reality is that one school’s need may be different from the next,” Porter-Webb said.

Education Voters also suggested that the District view principals as “senior managers, who are expected to spend time developing and implementing organizational strategies for targeted improvements, rather than reacting to day-to-day issues,” said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA.

“They should be engaged in shaping the direction and the priorities of the District within their schools,” Gobreski said.

With this in mind, ACTION United and Education Voters hope that the District will allow principals to control the hiring process for teachers and other staff members within the schools and create a team working toward a common goal.

Backed by the Cross City Campaign for School Reform, also known as Our City, Our Schools, both ACTION United and Education Voters hope to bring the discussion of principal leadership to District administrators.

Representatives from ACTION United and Education Voters spoke at the April 19 School Reform Commission meeting. They also hope that the May 14 roundtable-style SRC meeting will be centered on the topic of principal leadership and stability.

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