Some high-performing D.C. public school principals will be offered three-year appointments starting next school year, an effort to retain talented principals and respond to calls for more stability among city school leadership.
In all, 22 principals, or about one in five current principals, will be offered the longer appointment in exchange for an agreement that they will stay at their school for three years.
“We know it takes a considerable amount of time and hard work to get to know the school community — its students, families, staff and culture — and to improve academic performance,” D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said in a statement. “A three-year appointment shows that we trust and value their leadership and ability to nurture a strong school community.”
The city’s public school principals have long worked under one-year contracts, but they were far more likely to keep their jobs prior to 2007, when the School Reform Act triggered a series of changes. Many of those changes — first implemented during the tenure of former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee — were built around the concept of holding principals and teachers more accountable for student progress.
In recent years, it has not been uncommon for 20 percent to 25 percent of the school system’s principals to turn over.
Last summer, D.C. public schools announced 21 new principals for the school system’s 111 schools. By comparison, Montgomery County had 23 new principals this year in a system with 203 schools.
“This gives me some space to maybe be a little more daring and bold in my work,” said Atasha James, who will be starting her third year as principal at Leckie Elementary next year. James recently learned that she will get a three-year appointment.
She has ambitious goals for the next three years, as she begins to build up a middle school program in her elementary school near Bolling Air Force base. She plans to add a grade a year for the next three years. By the time her students finish eighth grade, she wants more than 90 percent to graduate with at least one high school credit.
D.C. public schools released names for three of the 22 principals that were given the three-year appointments: Mary Ann Stinson of Truesdell Education Campus, Carmen Shepherd at Thomson Elementary, and James at Leckie.
Officials did not release the names or number of principals that they are not reappointing next year.
Terry Goings, an active alumnus of Coolidge High School, said he has been lobbying city officials to make a multi-year commitment to its principal, Richard Jackson, the fourth principal in as many years at the Ward 4 high school.
“We are losing good teachers, we are losing students, and we are losing faith from the community because nobody knows what is going on,” Goings said.
Aona Jefferson, president of the Council of School Officers, which represents principals, said that she is “pleased” that the school system is offering some longer-term contracts but that she is concerned that the way administrators will choose principals is too subjective.
The criteria for awarding multi-year contracts were developed with help from a School Leader IMPACT Task Force, which had participation from principals, assistant principals, instructional superintendents and members of the union.
Decisions are based on principal evaluations that were introduced in 2012-2013 and sort the school leaders into performance categories.
Half of a principal’s evaluation is tied to progress on school-wide achievement goals. The other half is based on a “leadership framework” that evaluates performance in various areas, including family engagement, instruction and operations.
To earn a three-year appointment, a principal must have been rated “effective” or higher for two years in a row or “highly effective” for one year, as well as have a score of 3.0 or higher in the leadership framework.
If a principal’s performance falls below the evaluation scores, the terms of the appointment would be reviewed but would not automatically lead to termination of the agreement, officials said. A longer-term appointment would not shield a principal from discipline or termination if they engage in misconduct.
The principal evaluations have been controversial in part because they have yielded low results for many District school leaders.
In the first year, the largest group received a “developing” rating, according to school system data. In 2012-2013, 61 principals were rated “developing,” 36 were rated “effective,” and 14 were rated “highly effective.” Nine principals were rated “ineffective,” which automatically leads to termination. Other principals also can be dismissed at the end of their contract for any reason.
The 2013-2014 school year was similar, with the largest number of principals rated in the “developing” category, which was renamed “minimally effective.” Seven principals were rated “ineffective.”