Report: Instability of leadership an issue in high-poverty schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With the District moving toward greater autonomy for schools, two local groups – ACTION United and Education Voters of Pennsylvania – are bringing attention to issues about the role and impact of principals.

An ACTION United report that looks at District schools for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years reveals that there is a significantly higher turnover rate among principals at the highest-poverty schools.

"Overall, high-poverty schools have less-experienced principals, more staff transition, and greater instability than their lower-poverty counterparts," said Elly Porter-Webb, ACTION United member and author of the report.

The report on principal turnover, "Revolving Doors: Findings from Philadelphia’s Highest-Poverty Schools," reveals that principals at the District’s highest-poverty schools stayed an average of only 3.5 years. Principals at the lowest-poverty schools stayed an average of 5.6 years.

Principals at high-poverty schools had about 5.5 total years of leadership experience, three years less than those in low-poverty schools, the study found. More than a third of high-poverty schools had new principals.

The report recommends monitoring principal turnover and developing and prioritizing supports for principals, especially in high-poverty schools.

These findings are supported by an Education Voters of Pennsylvania report – "Principles for Principals: The Role of Principal Leadership in Philadelphia."

The two activist groups gave public testimony at an April School Reform Commission meeting, along with recommendations around principal hiring, placement, training, support, and evaluation.

The SRC will be discussing these issues in more detail at a June meeting. Porter-Webb said the topic will demand increasing attention.

"In this era of autonomy, the role of principals will be more important because they will be more independent and have more weight and responsibility for what goes on in schools."