What School Leadership Tracking Means for Districts

Posted by Shivani StumpfO

November 1, 2018

Leader tracking systems enable district administrators to apply research-based data analytics to the principal hiring process.


In recent decades, it has become increasingly clear that school principals are among the most essential members of a district’s ecosystem. As one district leader memorably summed it up, “In sports, you have franchise players. Principals here are franchise players.”


From fine-tuning a school’s climate to cultivating strong leaders within a team of teachers to orchestrating people, processes, and data points in a way that fosters comprehensive school improvement, today’s principals are tasked with wide variety of complex duties. When they manage them successfully, principals can have a profound effect on student outcomes.


According to one study, principals have a direct effect on around 25 percent of the factors that underlie academic success, and are second only to classroom teachers in terms of impact on student learning. In fact, the study found that students attending schools led by the top 16 percent of principals are, on average, two to seven months ahead of their peers.


The Problem of Principal Churn


Of course, it takes some time — as much as five years — for a new principal to fully implement their vision for a school, meaning principal retention is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, only 52 percent of principals stay in place for more than three years, and even fewer (less than 30 percent) stay in place beyond five years.


“It is far from a trivial problem,” say researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto. “Schools experiencing exceptionally rapid principal turnover…are often reported to suffer from lack of a shared purpose…and an inability to maintain a school-improvement focus long enough to actually accomplish any meaningful change.”


Reducing principal churn is a complex endeavor, but it begins with improving the way districts go about hiring school leaders. No matter how experienced or highly-skilled, certain principals simply aren’t good fits for certain schools. That said, making any hire — let alone a right-fit one — is an incredibly resource-intensive process, and district stakeholders often have little choice but to offer a vacant position to the best candidate among an initial round of applicants.


Leaders and advocacy groups within the education space are working to solve this through the creation of data-driven “leader tracking systems” (LTS). With the support of organizations like The Wallace Foundation, for example, a number of universities and districts around the country have started leveraging LTSs to streamline their principal hiring processes and more effectively manage their in-house “bench” of up-and-coming leadership talent.


The Power of Leader Tracking Systems


Traditionally, the principal recruitment and hiring process has been driven primarily by word-of-mouth and “who you know” networking. And while the value of on-the-ground recommendations should never be underestimated, the many considerations that factor into a right-fit hire complicate the transposability of previous successes.


For instance, in a small school, a principal has the ability to directly engage with their staff, modeling their vision for meaningful instruction and monitoring how effectively teachers are able to put it into practice in the classroom. In a larger school, principals must prioritize consistent messaging as they manage a larger leadership team to ensure alignment throughout their district.


In fact, there are dozens of factors that impact whether an applicant is a good fit for a particular principalship, and giving them all their due consideration is practically impossible without a powerful data platform. LTSs, like Hoonuit’s out-of-the-box solution, offer an answer to this challenge of scale by applying data analytics to the leadership talent pipeline.


From demographic information (gender, race/ethnicity, age, education) to demonstrated competencies and strengths (scores on performance evaluations in previous positions, scores on standardized leadership assessments, languages spoken) to experience breakdowns (types/sizes of schools served, students demographics in schools served, performance improvements in schools served), LTSs aggregate all of the information district leadership needs to build a nuanced understanding of an applicant’s background.


Once an applicant pool has been collected in an LTS, a district hiring team can specify must-haves and the system will pinpoint a handful of best-fit candidates for interviews. The team can also use an LTS for recruitment purposes by proactively searching for prospective site leaders and teacher leaders whose backgrounds align with the district’s most pressing — and most distinctive — needs.


The people analytics provided by LTSs help district leaders streamline their hiring processes in remarkable ways. “It used to take hours to find good lists of candidates to bring to the table for interviews; I can do that now in 10 minutes,” one district administrator told researchers from Policy Studies Associates. “I can give the data to my boss and say, ‘Here are my thoughts.’ It’s just a huge time saver and it’s turning good data into good information.”


A Data-Driven Future


This administrator’s enthusiasm is hardly exceptional. Indeed, The Wallace Foundation is so bullish on LTSs that it has launched and financed a number of initiatives designed to bring people analytics to principal hiring pipelines across the country. The response to these initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive, with 90 percent of participating districts saying their LTS has helped them “develop a pool of qualified principal candidates for hiring” and 84 percent saying it “assists with matching the right candidate to the right school.”


At Hoonuit, our robust, industry-leading data analytics platform can play a key role in helping districts create and execute effective leadership tracking initiatives. From targeted interventions to right-fit hires to improving student achievement, the future of education needs to be data-driven, and we couldn’t be more excited.

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