Academic journal article Rural Educator

Rural and Small School Principal Candidates: Perspectives of Hiring Superintendents

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Rural and Small School Principal Candidates: Perspectives of Hiring Superintendents

Article excerpt

This article reports the results of an inquiry into the dynamics of principal selection in rural school districts in two mid-American states with high numbers of rural schools. The study focuses on two questions: (1) are rural school districts experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants for vacant principal's positions; and (2) what professional and personal characteristics do superintendents seek in selecting principals for rural schools? Data for the study were collected through a review of the relevant research literature and interviews with superintendents of rural school districts. The study confirmed that rural school districts in these two states are in fact not experiencing a shortage of qualified principal applicants and delineates specific professional and personal characteristics superintendents seek in the principals who lead rural schools.


It has long been assumed that American public schools face a critical shortage of quality candidates for principal positions (Yerkes & Gauglianone, 1998; National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), 2000; Fenwick & Pierce, 2001; Pounder & Merrill, 2001; Whitaker, 2001). The Educational Research Services (1998; 2000) anticipates a shortage of qualified applicants for principal positions as more than 30 percent of principals and assistant principals retire over the next decade and enrollments in elementary and middle schools continue to grow. A recent study by Quinn (2002) discovered shortages of principal candidates in urban, suburban and rural schools. Fink and Brayman (2006) attribute the coming shortage of principal candidates to the retirement of aging principals, increased principal mobility, and the standardization agenda which "undermine the capacity of incoming and outgoing principals to lead their schools (p. 83)." Finally, Young, Peterson, and Short (2002) note a decline in the number of qualified candidates willing to take on the task of leading schools. These studies suggest that at a time when public schools in the United States need new and dynamic leadership, finding those leaders will become increasingly difficult.

Review of the literature

Explanations for the decline in the number and quality principal candidates and even the question of whether or not a shortage exists have been the focus of an extensive body of recent research. Here we review relevant research in several areas: the nature of the applicant pool for principal positions; incentives and disincentives for educators to seek a principal's position; the attractiveness of a principal's position as career goal for teachers; and the multiplicity of factors influencing the supply of applicants for vacant principal positions. What we have come to understand is that the issue is more complex than it appears at first glance.

The principal applicant pool

Teachers make up the largest pool of potential principal applicants and understanding the reason why teachers do or do not apply for vacant principal's positions is vital. Jordan, McCauley, and Commeaux (1998) surveyed Louisiana teachers who held principal's credentials to determine their attitudes toward pursuing an administrative position. Their findings indicated that 80% of teachers who already held an administrative certificate were not interested in becoming a principal. Respondents identified the following as reasons for not pursuing an administrative career: the increasing complexity and constraints of the principal's job; excessive stress associated with the job; a perceived lack of support for doing a good job; inadequate salaries; long hours associated with requirements of the job; and the impact of the job on the principal's family life. Studies in other states (Adams, 1999; Malone, Sharp, & Thompson, 2000) produced similar results while Hammond, Muffs, and Sciascia (2001) found a perception among aspiring principals in New York state that school district hiring practices exhibited bias based on the applicant's gender and ethnicity. …

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