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With a small fix, Minnesota can cultivate dynamic principals

Leadership matters. We know that any organization’s success stems from its leaders’ ability to set the vision, goals, organizational culture and, most importantly, to support the people they lead.

It’s not just huge companies like General Mills, Medtronics and 3M that need great leaders. It’s not even just the small businesses or City Hall and the governor’s mansion. Minnesota runs more than 2,100 vital organizations desperately in need of fantastic leadership to steer the future of our state: our public schools.

Principals are the CEOs of our schools. How they manage and lead has a direct correlation to the success of the student body. Parents trust principals to help prepare their children for college and careers by creating a safe, fair and academically enriching environment. Teachers look to principals for the support they need to realize every child’s potential. Academic research repeatedly proves that after teachers, the principal is the second most influential in-school factor for student success.

Effective components

To make sure that every public school has a great principal monitoring the halls, supporting teachers and advancing student learning, our state is in the process of implementing its first-ever principal evaluation system. The evaluations will help assess which principals are thriving and which are faltering and make sure that principals get the help they need and the recognition they deserve.

An effective system would include such components as:

  • Establishing a vision and mission focused on shared goals and high expectations
  • Providing instructional leadership for high academic performance and demonstrating student achievement
  • Supporting teachers and professional development
  • Building professional, ethical and collaborative relationships based on effective communication
  • Managing resources for systemic performance accountability

In 2011, Minnesota created a smart new path to recognizing and supporting our principals: The Minnesota Legislature called for the annual evaluation of principals and established a work group to develop a performance-based principal evaluation model.

Fell short in one area

The Principal Evaluation Work Group concluded its work earlier this year but fell short in one key area: It failed to weight student performance in their evaluations.

There is a sensible fix. A bill in the Legislature would connect 35 percent of a principal’s evaluation to student performance – the same benchmark used for Minnesota teachers. On a vote of 55 to six, Minnesota senators approved the measure with bipartisan support. It’s now part of the Senate-approved education omnibus bill, H.F. 2949. A legislative conference committee will soon decide if the language makes its way to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Some Minnesota school districts aren’t waiting for the bill to pass. St. Paul Public Schools rolled out a revised annual principal evaluation system this school year. It gleaned best practices from the Principal Evaluation Work Group’s report, and rigorous evaluation models in Iowa and North Carolina, to include four leadership competencies: strategic, managerial, communications, and instructional learning. Assistant superintendents, who formally meet with each principal three times per school year, help provide the evaluations and the district’s Leadership Development Department provides principals with continual support. The district will soon include an outcome measure for student learning and each principal will identify leadership goals that align with a newly developed leadership pay program.

Teachers agree

Teachers couldn’t agree more. In the recent VIVA (Voice Ideas Vision Action) Project report “360 Degree Leadership: Evaluating Minnesota’s Principals” produced in partnership with Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Education, teachers said that the same measure of student performance used to evaluate teachers in Minnesota should be reflected in a principal’s evaluation. And ordinary citizens agree, too. In a recent MinnCAN survey of 1,000 Minnesotans on issues pertaining to teacher and principal performance, 92 percent of Minnesotans said that student-learning progress should be an important factor in evaluating the performance of a school principal.

Minnesota is home to some of the largest achievement gaps in the United States. Our schools, our teachers, andm most important, our students need principals capable of growing learning environments that close those achievement gaps and ensure that all kids achieve at the highest levels. Now it’s up to the Legislature and Gov. Dayton to take the lead to help cultivate school leadership.

Delores Henderson, Ph.D., is the principal of Hazel Park Preparatory Academy, St. Paul Public Schools.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Wade Sutton on 04/18/2012 - 10:20 pm.

    Missed key recommendations

    Dr. Henderson,

    I enjoyed your article and see the topic of principal evaluation as especially vital as we navigate in new directions for education. I was a member of the team that wrote this report and presented it to Gov. Dayton. There were two comments I would add.

    First, teachers did not agree that principals ought to have 35% of their evaluation based on test scores. We discussed this at length and felt that since educators were saddled with this inadequate measurement, their principals should (as equal member of the team) have to carry the same burden. We are not happy with this arbitrary percentage, however, for either teachers or principals. There are far better measures for teachers and principals than tests.

    For principals, I feel you could have highlighted the most innovative and effective portions of our report. The required off-site evaluation of the school, the participation in evaluation by parents and teachers, and the remediation option are essential aspects to a more transparent evaluation system. These are the center of our suggestions.

    Thank you for putting this in the spotlight.

    Wade Sutton

  2. Submitted by K Hill on 04/19/2012 - 09:18 pm.

    Missed key recommendations

    I was also a member of the team that wrote this report and I agree with Wade’s comments. You chose to comment on the least effective way to create the results we all want.

    Great schools that show great results need great leaders. Great leaders do not happen by accident nor will they emerge from an evaluation system that is closed. Please read the report again and pay close attention to the innovative ideas that open up the principal evaluation and adds a three track system that guarantees to cultivate great leaders.

    Please pay attention to the section that adds in the off site evaluation of a principal’s portfolio in a process similar to the process National Board certified teachers are evaluated that brings fresh eyes and new energy to the process of getting the results you want.

    If you want change you need to change the approach…..not keep adding pieces to an old system that is not giving you the results you want. It’s a conversation I have with my students when I see them doing the same thing over and over again without getting the results they want, “Well, how’s that working for you? If you want different results you have to change what you are doing.”

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