Academic journal article Rural Educator

Rural Superintendents' Perceptions of Principal Preparation

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Rural Superintendents' Perceptions of Principal Preparation

Article excerpt

As national and state expectations for school leadership competencies increase, new principals face an ever expanding role. Yet, scant attention is paid to the unique contextual needs of the varied school settings in which principals find themselves. This study surveyed rural superintendents of small districts (1 - 300 students) and mid-sized rural districts (301 - 600 students) to discover their perceptions of the development needs their new principals display. Seven areas of need were identified by the respondents, of which three pertained uniquely to the rural principalship. The three areas were: understanding the K- 12 school structure, preparing for the isolation of rural life, and knowing how to provide instructional leadership in an environment of scarce resources (human and material). The superintendents were also asked their perceptions of the effectiveness of various principal training program delivery models. The preferred delivery model was the in-district university cohort program. The delivery models superintendents rated least effective were the exclusively on-line training program and the state approved alternative certification program.

National concern over the decreasing availability of high quality principals has been framed by a broad spectrum of educational groups and advocates (Browne-Ferrigno & Knoeppel, 2005; English, 2004; Hess & Kelly, 2005; Lasley, 2004). Issues range from a shrinking pool of applicants to questions regarding the preparedness of newly credentialed administrators to successfully transition to school principal role (Garrison- Wade, Goldring & Sims, 2005; Hess & Kelly, 2005; Sobel & Fulmer, 2007). Of particular note are the increasing expectations for the building principals to arrive on site with exemplary relationship building skills that allow them to bring together stakeholder groups with varied, and sometimes opposing, expectations (Goldring & Sims, 2005), proven pedagogical skills that allow them to be instructional leaders across classrooms and programs (Barnett, 2004), and broad understanding of curricula to assure equitable, appropriate access to learning for all students (Anderson & Louh, 2005).

There is no shortage of definitions of ideal leadership capacities. Over the past few decades, various descriptors of effective leadership in action have been put forth (Council for Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], 2008; Hall & Harris, 2008; Hambright & Franco, 2008) that have altered the core expectations for principals, from the role of site-manager to one of a visionary leader able to respond appropriately within a contextually defined environment (Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2003). As these role changes have emerged, there has been a tacit assumption that the rural administrative needs are defined by the same issues that administrators in suburban and urban districts face (Hess & Kelly, 2005). Principal preparation is a vital part of developing effective leaders. In this study rural superintendents were asked first to rate their perceived efficacy of various principal preparation programs available, and second, to identify areas in which new school administrators exhibit needs and face challenges.

The Status of Rural Education

The evolution of the policies, expectations and structures for rural school districts has followed national shifts in economic and social patterns. In 1895, the National Education Association (NEA) convened a committee to examine rural schooling (Steffes, 2008). The review panel, known as the Committee of Twelve, expressed concern over the state of rural schools and recommended policies of consolidation, bringing small rural schools into a more centralized structure with greater regulation and emphasis on professional supervision (Steffes, 2008). The report set the stage for policies and regulations to evolve framed by a uniform view of schooling, melding urban and rural schools as a single continuum representing quantifiable variations of need but yet having uniform expectations of what constitutes effective schooling. …

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