Hiring a new principal? 5 steps to getting it right

Principals have a tough job. According to a recent study, 50 percent of new K12 principals are not retained beyond their third year, so finding the right candidate is crucial. Barbara Sargent, superintendent of schools at Parsippany-Troy Hills School District in New Jersey has these recommendations:

1. The paper screen
Review and rate all submitted resumes, using a simple three-point scoring system: 1=high, 2= maybe 3 =low. Compare notes with relevant staff, including the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and the assistant superintendent for human resources.

2. The screening interview
Lasting about 20 minutes, screening interviews allow the superintendent and other appropriate school leaders to meet candidates to gain a sense of their instructional leadership and ability to communicate a shared vision.

3. The interview panel
After selecting candidates worthy of a deeper look, form an interview panel comprising several teachers, two parents, a curriculum or special education supervisor, a fellow principal, and a school board member.
Prior to the interviews, share a list of questions with the panel members and invite their input. The questions may focus on the candidate’s understanding of the school community and goals, academic leadership experience, ability to build relationships, and potential to be a change agent. Frame the question to be as open-ended as possible so the candidate’s decision-making process is on display.

4. The debrief
At the conclusion of the interviews, everyone has a chance to share their thoughts on the candidates during a debriefing session. Ask each panel member to provide the name of one candidate they would eliminate from consideration if given the chance. This inevitably narrows the field to the strongest two or three candidates. After background checks and salary negotiations, the candidate’s information is forwarded to the board of education’s personnel committee for review, and then to the full board for approval at the next public meeting.

5. Welcome to the community
Finally, invite the new hire to a school event so teachers, students and parents can meet the new principal. Introduce the new principal to administrative colleagues and encourage them to reach out for assistance. By taking a direct leadership role in the exploration and selection of a school principal, the superintendent has an opportunity to interact with constituents in a positive, collective endeavor—and the superintendent will learn a great deal about the school’s leadership needs.

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