School principals' jobs become more complex, study finds

School principals are being forced to assume additional managerial responsibilities — even some they may not be sufficiently prepared for — amid ongoing cuts to state education budgets, according to a recently released report.

A survey of 600 principals in California conducted by the San Francisco-based nonprofit WestEd found that they are taking on tasks such as fundraising, managing school facilities and site budgets without appropriate training or mentors.

State funding cuts also have reduced the number of support staff, such as assistant principals and instructional coaches, who have historically taken on those peripheral jobs, according to the report.

The increased responsibilities for principals come against a backdrop of budget reductions and the consolidation of jobs. The study found that during the last four years, California has cut school spending by 23% — or $1,414 per student, more than any other state.

Meanwhile, the average K-3 class size increased to 25 students during the 2010-11 school year, compared to 20 students in 2008-09.

The WestEd report also touched on growing interest in teacher effectiveness, and the principal’s role in evaluating teachers. Among those surveyed, 74% reported moderate to significant experience in conducting classroom observations or walk-throughs, and 63% said they had moderate to significant experience in formally evaluating teachers.

But many principals said that they need more training and time to conduct evaluations, and only about a third reported that formal evaluations factor significantly into teachers’ professional development plans for the following year.

Burroughs High School Principal Emilio Urioste said that he and his colleagues are donning new hats for a number of different reasons. His 14 years in the classroom and 14 years as an administrator have helped him handle the increased responsibilities, Urioste said.

“I survive given my breadth of experience,” Urioste said. “Newer principals may find these added duties to be challenging, at the very least. What you have to maintain is an attitude that says I can learn new things and prioritize my time to get them accomplished.”

Other local principals said that the findings reflect what they hear from colleagues in other districts, but that isn’t necessarily the case here. Hoover High School Principal Jennifer Earl said that she has lost only one teacher specialist in recent years.

“Hearing from other colleagues in California, I think Glendale has done an exceptional job making sure the school sites aren’t getting hit,” Earl said.

Glendale High School Principal Deb Rinder said Glendale Unified has always provided extensive training and professional development as it relates to evaluations.

“In Glendale, I think they do a fabulous job on training staff on the evaluation process, and requiring us to be very involved in the evaluation of teachers,” Rinder said.

She agreed that the job description of a principal has changed during the last decade, but added that so too has that of the teacher.

She chooses to approach the new responsibilities as a challenge, and focus on those things that are going to impact the kids the most, Rinder said.

“You could get caught up in facilities and budgets and managing this and managing that, but I think successful professionals and successful schools have been able to filter out those things that are important and have a dire impact on student learning,” Rinder said.

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