The Revolving Door of the Principalship – and what it means for crisis preparedness in a school

School safety is receiving more attention today than any previous time in history.  Yet, implementation of school crisis preparedness measures is largely dependent upon school leadership – which is possibly in the most perilous condition in the history of contemporary American K-12 education.  As principal turnover rates accelerate, vision and implementation are strained, halted or undergo repeated vector shifts.  While some amount of school crisis preparedness is infused throughout a school via distributed cognition, the school leader determines the direction and magnitude of school safety measures – hence the importance of promoting principal tenure to deliver a consistent, long-term message to staff and students relative to school safety.

In March, 2008, the University Council for Education Administration published findings from a 2007 study that examined prevalence and consequences of principal turnover rates from Texas public schools.  “In 2007, 52% of the principals had left within three years on the job.  A comparison to three other 3-year spans (1995-2004) shows that the turnover rate increased gradually from 1995-1998.  Principal turnover was highest at the high school level, with 61% leaving within the three-year period 2004-2007.  Although turnover rate was the lowest at the elementary level 47.8%, turnover increased the most at that level (UCEA, 2008).  “These rates seem rather exceptional; yet, preliminary research by Bruce Baker suggests the rates in other states are similar to those in Texas (Baker, 2007).

A 2012 Rand study found principal success, and principal retention, correlated to activities and approaches that leaned heavily toward culture and leadership.  “[Successful] principals focused most or all of their time on the following five areas:  promoting data use, observing classrooms creating a healthy school culture, forming leadership teams, and promoting teacher professional development (Samuels, 2012).  Acknowledging that management activities aren’t where principals invest their time and having an awareness of high turnover in the principal profession, it brings forward the question of what is the status of school crisis preparedness of public schools in the United States?

“Study: Principal Turnover Bodes Poorly for Schools,” by Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, March 7, 2012.

Fuller, Edward J., Michelle D., Baker, Bruce. (2007, November). “The relationship between principal characteristics, principal turnover, teacher quality, teacher turnover, and student achievement,” Presented at the annual meeting of the University Council of Educational Administration. Alexandria, VA. 

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