One Fifth of DC Schools Starting the Year With New Principals

Late last spring, Washington D.C. school officials reported that 16 schools around the district would lose their principals over the summer. Although at least one of those predicted to be leaving their jobs got a last-minute reprieve due to exceptional test scores, a number of additional schools announced that they will be losing their top administrators – some to resignation, some to retirement and some to “non-reappointment,” possibly due to performance issues.

According to Emma Brown of the Washington Post, that means that out of 112 District schools, 24 will be starting the year with new principals. Although this is lower than the turnover in the last two years, it still represents nearly one fifth of all the schools in the city.

The downward trend could assuage some concerns about turnover, but the fact that city schools lose their administrators at a higher rate than schools in Washington suburbs still raises concerns. In part, that is because schools that experience frequent personnel changes tend to score lower on student performance metrics than schools that have a more stable leadership team.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has said that training, recruiting and keeping strong leaders is key if the school system is to continue making gains.

“More than anything else, we need to get the right people leading our schools,” Henderson said recently, speaking about Tubman Elementary’s gains under Principal Harry Hughes over the past five years. “Consistency of leadership is really important.”

Nalle Elementary School was initially among the number that was slated to get a new principal this fall. However, because of dramatic improvement in the school’s test scores – Nalle students recorded some of the biggest gains in the district – principal Kim Burke was retained and will be coming back for at least one more year, although district officials declined to confirm or deny that Burke’s reappointment was related to the scores.

The principal at H.D. Woodson High, Richard Jackson, fell ill this summer and is out on medical leave. Officials tapped Darrin Slade — who has been a DCPS principal in Ward 7 for more than a decade, most recently at the now-closed Ron Brown Middle School — to lead Woodson in Jackson’s absence.

Slade’s appointment triggered resistance from some parents and teachers, who circulated anonline petition arguing that DCPS officials should have sought input from the school community before making a decision.

However, the school’s union representative Maxine Elbert said that family and staff are more optimistic about Slade’s appointment after meeting with him this month.