City school board to scrutinize high principal turnover

Members of the Baltimore City school board expressed concern this week about the number of new principal appointments -- continuing a trend of turnover that has seen more than 90 percent of the district's school leadership change in the last six years.

This summer, there have been 56 new principal or assistant principal appointments, according to a "school readiness" presentation made to the board Tuesday.

Of the 56 appointments, 38 schools are getting brand-new principals this year, and six schools will open with "managing principals." Principal positions at an additional 12 schools are awaiting approval, officials said. The presentation also showed that the district has filled 97 percent of its teaching positions.

While the number of schools opening without permanent leaders has declined from 22 last year, school board members said that they were more interested in knowing why the principal pot continues to churn.

“The conversation I look forward to is, how can we understand, systematically, what happened,” said Cheryl A. Casciani, who joined the board in June. “I’ve only seen three of these agendas and I’m just like, stunned at the level of turnover. The first thing I thought was ‘Wow, that’s a lot of [instability] for kids and communities.'”

Earlier this summer, the president of the city's principals union -- who has long attributed the flood of resignations, retirements and other departures of principals to former city schools CEO Andres Alonso's brash style -- said principals continued to leave this year because they were "fed up," and morale was low. But he said he believed morale would improve under Interim CEO Tisha Edwards.

Edwards, who was Alonso's chief of staff for four years, said that she also shared the concern about principal turnover, and the district's focus would be on building a stronger pipeline of school leaders. However, she said that some of the principal appointments were strategic. For example, some strong principals who led smaller schools were tapped to move on to bigger ones this year.

“We are already, and we will be, in a better position than we were last year," Edwards told the board. “We know that one of the levers for success is to have strong, stable leadership. That is something that we’re working on in many different ways.”

Shanaysha Sauls, chair of the board, said that while the district emphasized the number of schools opening without permanent leaders has declined, “this is an area of deep concern for us."

David Stone, vice chair of the board, said principal turnover was one of the board's "higher-priority issues."

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