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2018 Education Leadership Roundtable Summary Report

Among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school, leadership is perhaps second only to classroom instruction. Furthermore, the impact of leadership tends to be the greatest in schools where the learning needs of students are most acute. The greater the challenge, the greater the impact an effective principal can have on student learning. There are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader. Many other factors may contribute to such turnarounds, but leadership is the catalyst.

In 2013, Florida TaxWatch established its prestigious Principal Leadership Awards (PLA) Program to recognize and reward Florida’s highest-performing principals whose schools draw from predominantly at-risk populations, yet whose students consistently outperform those in schools with comparable populations. TaxWatch annually recognizes the top three elementary, top three middle, and top three high school principals.

This program, the first of its kind in the U.S., uses the Florida Department of Education’s Florida Value-Added Model (FL-VAM) common school component estimates, which describe the amount of learning that is typical for students in each school that differs from the statewide conditional expectation and indicates the total contribution of the school to greater than or less than predicted student achievement. TaxWatch calculates student learning gains for math and reading by grade and by school year.

In April 2018, TaxWatch convened a 90-minute education roundtable in Orlando to discuss ways to improve the overall quality of pre-K–12 education by improving the leadership qualities of our public school principals. Joining the nine current PLA-winning principals were three former PLA-winning principals, the Chair of the State Board of Education, one current and one former member of the Florida House of Representatives, and a number of business and community leaders from across the state. A full list of participants is included in Appendix A.

Moderated by former Chief Financial Officer and Senate President Jeff Atwater, the participants discussed the following topics:

  • Obstacles to effective school leadership;
  • Ways to attract and retain high-quality teachers;
  • Professional development for principals;
  • How to get the most from teachers; and
  • Principal autonomy.

Although not for attribution, the strategies discussed by the participating principals to effectively lead their schools have been summarized here by TaxWatch, along with a review of educational literature and research studies that support these strategies. TaxWatch has also identified a number of “takeaways” for consideration by policy makers and education professionals. A draft copy of this report was provided to the participating principals and other experts for feedback to make sure TaxWatch accurately captured the discussion.

Please note that this report is not intended to represent a comprehensive review of, or a “deep dive” into, the above topics. It is, however, intended to be a starting point for further discussion and examination of what these principals are doing to make their schools so successful, and what policymakers can do to begin to institutionalize these effective leadership practices. TaxWatch is pleased to present a summary of this discussion, ”takeaways” for consideration for Florida’s education policymakers and professionals, and a summary of available research in support of those takeaways.

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