Changing role of public education in American

How High-Achieving Districts Are Recalibrating School Leadership

PrincipalSOURCE: AP/Richard Drew

Teacher Josh Krinsky, left, and Principal Brett Kimmel get together in Krinsky's global history class at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in New York, March 3, 2011.

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See also: Professional Support for Principals Is Essential for Strong Teacher-Evaluation Systems by Jenny DeMonte and Kaitlin Pennington

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The principal has historically been portrayed in television and film as decidedly unheroic. From the hated Mr. Woodman on the 1970s television sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” to the mean-spirited and incompetent Ed Rooney in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, ” the principal has been cast as inept at best and villainous at worst. While the creators of such characters certainly relied heavily upon comedic license in crafting such caricatures, there was nonetheless a kernel of truth in the stereotype upon which these depictions were based. In the public mind, principals were often thought of as mere school-building managers, individuals who were more interested in wielding power and enforcing compliance than in the loftier concerns of teaching and learning.

Today, however, those stale notions could not be further from the truth. The job of a modern-day principal has transformed into something that would be almost unrecognizable to the principals of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The concept of the principal as a building manager has given way to a model where the principal is an aspirational leader, a team builder, a coach, and an agent of visionary change.

New teacher- and principal-appraisal systems are contributing to the principal’s changing landscape. These changes have rightly put student performance at the forefront, and principals are being asked to develop new competencies largely centered around data, curriculum, pedagogy, and human capital development in order to meet the new expectations. But make no mistake, the increasing emphasis on instructional leadership does not mean that the more traditional managerial concerns of school administration have disappeared. Indeed, principals are still expected to be effective building managers, disciplinarians, and public relations experts.


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