September 9, 2015

Report: More than Fifth of OKC District Principals Leave Each Year

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An education advocacy group is calling for a larger focus on principal retention after releasing a report Wednesday that found an average of 22 percent of Oklahoma City Public Schools principals leave each year.

The report, released by Stand for Children Oklahoma, said the retention of high-quality principals is a key part to addressing Oklahoma’s teacher shortage.

Statewide, Oklahoma was about 1,000 teachers short going into the 2015-2016 school year, according to the state Department of Education.

Constant leadership turnover can affect teacher moral, recruitment and training, which trickles down to student achievement in the classroom, Stand for Children Oklahoma City Director Matt Latham said.

“Principal turnover and teacher turnover are tied together. They go hand in hand,” Latham said. “Everyone wants to work for a good boss.”

While principal turnover at Oklahoma City averaged about 22 percent annually between the 1993-1994 and 2013-2014 school years, it did ebb and flow.

Turnover peaked at 28 principals, or 36 percent, in 2011-2012, ccording to district data provided by Stand for Children Oklahoma.

The 1996-1997 school year saw four principals, or 5 percent, leave. That was the lowest number during the past two decades.

Principal turnover was due to retirements, resignations, transfers and terminations.

The report noted that some schools were especially hard-hit by turnover. Webster Middle School saw 12 new principals between 1994-1995.

Oklahoma City Superintendent Rob Neu, who is entering his second year on the job, put a focus on recruiting and retaining principals during his first year. That included reducing some of the district-level administrative workload principals faced to give them more time to focus on working with teachers.

The district also developed a system to identify current employees interested in becoming principals. They are provided with training and mentoring to help them achieve their career goals.

More than 100 staff member completed the process last year, according to the district.

“Principal turnover is an issue affecting not only the Oklahoma City Public School District, but districts across the country,” Neu said in a written statement. “Oklahoma City Public School leaders have taken proactive steps to end the revolving door by supporting and empowering principals and recognizing potential building leaders.”

Tulsa Public Schools spokesman Chris Payne said Tulsa is also working to reduce principals’ workloads to give them more time to work with teachers. Additional details were not immediately available.

The churn of principals bringS a financial cost to districts.

A new principal costs about $75,000 to replace when accounting for hiring costs and training are taken into account, said the report, which used national estimates. That means Oklahoma City spends about $1.2 million annually to replace principals.

Constant change also leads to lack of consistency in school discipline and the implementation of curriculum, the report said.

National studies have also found it takes a principal about five years before he or she starts affecting a school’s culture, according to the report.

A state Education Department report released in June found the state’s largest school districts often have the least experienced teachers. That report did not address principal turnover.

Latham, of Stand for Children, said he hopes the report increases focus on principal retention efforts even as the state grapples with its teacher shortage.

“We’ve got to make sure our principals are supported, too,” he said.