To improve schools, Maryland's school systems should relieve principals of job distractions, pay them higher salaries and give them better training, a state task force recommended yesterday.
"Principals do not have time to be instructional leaders," said Donald Barron, co-chairman of the task force and principal of Montgomery County's Montgomery Village Middle School. "There is little time to do what you want to do, what you thought the job would be about."
The 24-member task force was appointed in December by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick in response to concerns about a growing shortage of qualified principals in most Maryland school systems as well as across the nation.
In a survey of 21 superintendents conducted last year by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, 18 reported a shortage of qualified applicants for middle- and high school assistant principal and principal positions.
Many principals and would-be principals are put off by the increasing demands of the jobs, according to focus groups conducted by the state association, including pressures from parents and superintendents, growing time demands and relatively small gains in pay.
The group's survey results helped prompt Grasmick to appoint the task force, and yesterday she promised swift action to help put the recommendations into place. "This is such an important issue that we can't do it alone," Grasmick told the state school board. "This will require collaboration with the local school systems."
Research has repeatedly found that the most successful schools tend to be those in which principals are directly involved in supervising instruction, regularly visiting classrooms to evaluate teachers and suggesting ways for them to improve.
But principals report being bogged down by such distractions as monitoring lunchrooms and sporting events, balancing school financial accounts and being required to attend many meetings away from their schools - activities that the task force said need to be kept to a minimum.
"We really need to zero in on that role of instructional leader," said Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, the task force's other co-chairman. "That means some things have to come off their plates."
In Howard, Hickey said, he has taken several steps, including reducing the frequency of evaluations of secretaries and janitors, encouraging principals to designate others to attend special education meetings on their behalf and hiring extra security for athletic events.
The task force recommended that local school systems give principals extra staff to take over less important duties.
It also found big disparities among school systems in principals' salaries. The maximum salary for Baltimore County principals is $82,500, but the maximum salary in Montgomery County is $105,014, according to the group's report. "We need to develop a model package because there is too much variability across the school systems in this state," Hickey said.
The task force suggested that principals' bonuses or other incentives could be tied to improved academic performance at their schools. It said that universities and school systems need to find new ways to train principals, including assigning them to mentors.
Maryland school systems have struggled to find ways to develop successful principals, and the task force recommended that new, more effective training techniques be developed.
"Most school administrators, locally and nationally, have been trained in programs that are now both irrelevant and grossly inadequate for the current responsibilities of principalship," the report said. "Clearly, the current system of simply promoting a teacher to assistant principal and, subsequently, to principal - without substantial training - is insufficient for developing an effective principal corps."
Hickey suggested that school systems might consider looking for principals outside the traditional pool of educators.