Principals Are the Key to Turning Around Failing Schools
Florida TaxWatch recently celebrated its fourth annual Principal Leadership Awards with a ceremony in Orlando honoring nine outstanding elementary, middle and high school principals. These are principals at schools with large populations of at-risk students --- students who have demonstrated learning gains that far exceed what was expected of them. Through innovation and new techniques, these principals are making a difference not only in the lives of their students, but in their communities as well. Florida TaxWatch is honored to be able to recognize the outstanding contributions of these principals.
The Florida Legislature has also taken steps to recognize the importance of school leadership, in addition to effective classroom instruction, in contributing to student learning and student success. Modeled after a program in Broward County, the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative (PAPPI) is a voluntary program in seven school districts (Broward, Duval, Jefferson, Madison, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Seminole) that grants participating principals greater authority and autonomy with respect to staffing decisions, budgeting, and resource allocation.
Principals who have earned highly effective performance ratings are assigned to schools that have received school grades of “D” or “F” in at least two of the past three school years. Participating principals are required to first participate in a nationally-recognized “turnaround” program (a professional development program for school-level administrators) before taking control of their new school. Participating principals receive an annual $10,000 supplement, to be used at the discretion of the principal. Participating principals are granted greater authority to: (1) select or reject instructional personnel; (2) implement instructional reforms; and (3) budget and allocate resources.
Schools participating in PAPPI are exempt from many provisions contained in the K-20 Education Code and many State Board of Education rules. In addition, compliance with the state’s class size requirements for participating schools will be calculated at the school-level average rather than at the individual classroom level.
Participating school districts are required to submit an annual report to the state Board of Education. At the end of the program’s first three-year term, the Commissioner of Education will submit a full evaluation of the program to the Legislature, permitting legislators to assess the program’s overall effectiveness and decide whether to continue the program.
PAPPI has the potential to be transformative. These highly effective principals will bring to their new schools their visions of student success and their commitments to high standards. Free from many state rules and regulations, these principals will have a unique opportunity to create instructional climates that empower teachers to teach their best and engage students to learn and be successful.
From there, education policy-makers can observe firsthand the daily practices of these highly effective principals and their instructional personnel in an effort to identify the most effective standards of practice, replicate and institutionalize these practices, and enhance student achievement, primarily for students in high-risk schools.