Turnover at schools causes scramble for new principals

By P.J. Standlee

The Kyrene School District is experiencing one of its first encounters with a nationwide increase in retirements and turnover in administrative positions.

According to David Schauer, assistant superintendent for instructional services, six of the seven vacated elementary- and middle-school principal positions have been filled.

Schools with new incoming principals include Kyrene de los Cerritos, Colina, Esperanza, Mirada, del Norte and Sureño.

The principal position at Pueblo is the only one still open, and it is expected to be filled sometime later this month.

Schauer said the average turnover rate for Kyrene principal positions averages two to three per year.  Having seven principals leave in the same year, he added, is “unusual.”

“It’s a little high for the district,” Schauer said. “It’s due to a combination of factors. There have been a lot of retirements, which fits the nationwide forecast for increasing retirees.”

Other reasons for principals leaving the district include relocation and personal reasons. However, Schauer said no matter what the cause, the school district is prepared to fill the positions.

Increasing retirement for the baby-boom generation is also expected to affect teacher positions.

To help alleviate the problem, the district participates in a nationwide advertising campaign through the Morrison Institute to reach qualified candidates in addition to national and local recruitment fairs.

However, the school mostly selects its new principals from the existing pool of talent within the Kyrene system.

“We have a big focus on growing our own talent,” Schauer said. “We really look to providing our own training and support.”

In fact, three of the six newly hired principals are from within the Kyrene district. Kyrene de la Cerritos’ new principal, Janet Thor, served as assistant principal at Kyrene del Cielo; Colina Principal Cheryl Green was assistant director of supplemental student services and Mirada Principal Donna Gallagher was assistant principal at Kyrene Middle School.

Rita Martinez, who held a position at an elementary school in Albuquerque, N.M., will be the new principal at Sureño, and Spencer Fallgatter, an elementary school principal in Tucson, will new be the principal at del Norte.

Schauer added that the district tries to integrate the principals before the end of the previous school year in order to make connections with staff and parents.

One of the most difficult challenges a principal has, Schauer said, is dealing with so many interests.

“The principal’s position is really the hardest in education. They have to work with the students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Schauer said.

“They really get it from all sides.”

Of course, principals also have to prepare the school for standardize testing.

Although the school might be undergoing a transition with a new principal, Schauer said the school’s teachers and staff understand and work hard to achieve each school’s testing goals.

“With accountability in the field, we are constantly looking at how to improve achievement with student scores, but it’s a huge challenge,” Schauer said.

Having the new principal meet with the outgoing principal and staff is only half of the process. New principals must also forge alliances with parents and the Parent Teacher Organization, get up to speed with governance policies, personnel issues, curriculum and teacher support and evaluation programs.

“It’s a lot, but we have people that step forward and make it work,” Schauer said.