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Qualities of Effective Principals Addressed in Pre-Conference Workshop

How do superintendents hire the most effective principals? How can they ensure the right person is placed into that integral position in a school district?

During a pre-conference session Wednesday at AASA’s national conference in New Orleans, superintendents went through the steps of the hiring process for a principal.

The workshop’s leader, James H.  Stronge, Heritage professor in the educational policy, planning and leadership area at the College of William and Mary, said when hiring principals, “it’s important to know what the criteria is and ensure that the protocols are established. That way, you have evidence-based justification.”

Specific criteria depend on the priorities of the school district. They should include the main qualities of an effective principal such as instructional leadership, communications and community relations, organizational management and professionalism, he said.

Stronge listed these steps:

  • 1: Whenever possible, superintendents and their hiring team should first begin with a broad, deep applicant pool.
  • 2: Narrow down the list through a credential review — what he called the gatekeeper round — which includes doing criminal background checks and making sure the candidates have their principal certification.
  • 3: Conduct two types of interviews: a screening interview to further narrow down the candidate pool and an in-person, comprehensive interview, where candidates are asked behavior-based questions demonstrating how they would act and react as a principal.
  • 4: Check references after the interviews are completed and before a decision is made.

“Fairness and objectivity in a selection process is difficult,” Stronge explained. “That is why you as superintendent need to make very specific criteria [in the hiring process].”

While objectivity is key in the hiring of a site administrator, a major piece of advice from Stronge was to take notes during each interview.

“If you write down comments, you’ll have a better recall of who the candidate was [after the interview],” he said. “That person will not just be a generic memory.”

Stronge emphasized that the criteria developed by a hiring team in a school district sets a bar for who should be interviewed and ultimately hired.  Those who fall below the bar should not be considered, only those who exceed expectations should be interviewed.

One concern raised by an attendee involved was  going through the hiring process to find a principal but ending up with a candidate who meet the intended criteria.

To that concern, Stronge replied: “If you don’t find the right candidate keep looking. If I were you, I would not flinch to repost the job. You got to get the right person in the principalship.”

(Rebecca Shaw is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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