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Principals In PAUSD

Original post made by Paul Losch, Community Center, on Jun 20, 2013


PALY has lost a principal of three years due to unfortunate personal circumstances. Terman is getting a new one due to the incumbent moving to the District office. That's the news this year. So far.

I was on the shuttle the Toyota dealership provides to pick up my car after routine service. The other passenger, a dad with kids in PAUSD schools and I got to talking, and we both more or less fell into the observation that turnover in PAUSD principals seems to be quite high.

My now grown kids went to Jordan, and I cannot remember how many times there was a new principal there during my kids' time at the middle school, at least 4. At least 3 at PALY over the time they were Vikings.

I have no idea what or why such a high churn rate in principals occurs. Obvious explanations, as in the current instances of career or health reasons, are understandable. Still, the job seems to be one in which people do not last very long, for whatever reason.

I worked for 8 years at a company earlier in my business life, and had 5 CEO's during my time there. A major reason for my leaving was that lacking a solid leader at the top, with some continuity, resulted in a dysfunctional organization.

Principals are CEO's. They should take on that mantle assuming and expecting that they are going to be on the job for at least several years. Positive impact only happens after being in such a position for a while. Negative impact, by contrast, can happen immediately, even when it may be for the right reasons longer term.

I hope those doing the hiring think long term about bringing in new principals, people committed to being on the job for a number of years, not viewing it as a career move to the next big thing.

Comments (19)

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Posted by Perish the Thought!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm

It is a sickening thought that Kevin Skelly, probably the poorest judge of people, would actually PROMOTE the man at the very center of the Terman Middle School /OCR scandal! The thought of this guy being rewarded for being a lousy principal is stomach churning to say the least.

I hope at least he is being promoted to a place where he can't do too much more harm. He certainly never did any good where he was!


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Pleasanton lost six of its 15 principals for the coming school year due to retirement and new challenges--one who had been in the job one year. Some of it could be that high performing districts with active and vocal parents make leadership roles arduous. That is not to say it's wrong for parents to be involved; it's just an acknowledgement that it can be overwhelming after a few years. Also, leaders from high performing districts are actively recruited by other districts hoping to see growth for their students. I suppose some small percent are cases where people are quietly encouraged to look elsewhere or are not selected when applying for moves within the district. Long way of saying it's a mixed bag just like any job.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I agree that we seem to lose principals as often as my kids lose stuff at school.

I would like to see more promotion from within PAUSD for replacement principals as at least these individuals understand our district. I would love to see Chuck Merritt, former vp at Paly and now at El Carmelo, back at Paly as principal.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm

We have parents like the first poster on this thread. How long would you last? Humans tend to remember the negative minority even when they are doing everything right. And yes, PAUSD on the resume leads to promotions.

Part of the problem is that we have students attending our schools who need extra help. It's not so easy to help students who don't want to help themselves and whose families don't care. Most of the students in Palo Alto have families who put education as a priority. People seem to think PAUSD should hire tutors for these failing students when it's the families who should help them or the students who should ask for extra help but they don't.


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Posted by something is not right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm


Since you can't fire teachers, the Principal is the one in the middle - trying to serve students, parents. Just like you have some good teachers at Paly , you also have some BAD teachers with which the Principal can do very little.

The bad teachers will complain about the bad parents, but complain as they might, mostly good kids attend school and some are extremely good students.

The site based system combined with high Admin turnover is the way you end up with a haven for bad teachers, and actually a haven for bad leadership at the district level.

It's a risky game to play.


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Posted by homeless
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm

God's people the blessed work behind the doors. Art is evolving, Beauty of it all. Nothin been lost: there are timed one needs to rest! Good move all I can say personally.


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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm

We have high turnover of administrators for the same reason that we have so few people running for School Board.

We are a VERY demanding District and we speak loudly and sometimes with very little facts (such as @Perish The Thought who complained that Dr. Skelly "would actually PROMOTE the man" from Terman.) The Terman principal is a woman...

We are probably a prime District to recruit from - I assume having Palo Alto on your resume gets you promoted more quickly.


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Posted by actually...
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm

it's common that a principal only last 2-4 years. This is true for 90% of principals out there in every district anywhere.

Non issue.


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Posted by something is not right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:37 pm



actually,

If combined with site based control, is it a wonder few get it right?

Your stat sounds like something a perennial would throw around. Yep.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 21, 2013 at 7:35 am

I did a quick google search for the average tenure of school principals. Seems that 3-5 years pops up in a lot of results. This seems like a good thing to me. Organizations need turnover, particularly at the top--in order for meaningful review of organizational practices, and correction of problems to take effect.

I would like to see all Principlas/Directors, and above, rotated every five years, or so.

As to the PAUSD, is there a list of school principals, superintendents that is kept up-to-date that we can reference, to see how frequently rotation goes on in the PAUSD, for management-level employees?


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2013 at 8:41 am

I think differently: I think that if there is a very good leader, like Sandra Pearson, then such person should be held onto as long as possible. There have been too frequent and sometimes jarring changes in principals/other administrators, and some of these people have been clearly abrasive, or clearly had certain priorities that didn't mesh with most of us. The principal is really, really important. Parents (and their students) have really different experiences (as recounted on these threads) depending on what era they are speaking of, and I often think this relates to who was/is principal at the time at the particular school being discussed. Get someone good and retain them as long as possible.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 21, 2013 at 9:41 am

> hold on to someone "special" as long as possible.

This is a commonly held belief, particularly in the public/education sector. But what makes these sorts of people "special", or "good"? One poster offers examples of "abrasive" as an example of what a "bad" principal might be like, however. How about providing details that makes this person "special"?

At issue here is really whether there is any management from the Top (Superintendent/Board), or are the schools simply in the hands of the employees (teachers, Administrators, Staff), who treat the buildings, children, parents, and the public in general, as "passive customers" of whatever they are selling?

There is simply no excuse for an "abrasive" school principal. Education is a publicly-funded activity—so everyone on the payroll works for the public. Public sector employment does not provide any excuse for the avoidance of courtesy, common sense, or any of the other social norms that the rest of us live by.

Principals should be subject to yearly reviews—which should include comments from the teaching staff, the classified staff, the Administration, the Board, and the public. Principals should be hired on a provisional basis, and offered no more than a five-year contract.

All Management level employees should be required to attend a course on topics such as: Public School Finance, The California EdCode, History of the school districts in the County, Facilities Management, Technology Available To Schools, etc. Some sort of test should be required to complete this training. Failure to complete the training would be a cause to terminate the individual's contract.

Moving schools from sort of "family-oriented", special interest-oriented activity, to one that is rooted in proven management techniques should be seen as one of the necessary steps to making American Education worth the money we pay for it.

Principals generally are promoted from the teaching ranks, and teachers are not the best prepared people to teach, much lest to manage other teachers and school sites:

Rookie US Teachers Woefully Unprepared:
Web Link

The problem is not keeping "good people" as much as a failure to create "good people" within the education system, nationwide. Anyone know if the PAUSD has any management training programs to groom future principals, or Administrators?


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Posted by Not exactly
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

Principals are reviewed yearly. They have, essentially, one-year contracts. There are training programs PAUSD uses, most notably one at Harvard. Web Link There are coaching programs for new and aspiring administrators.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

The information posted by the previous poster is good to know. Perhaps this sort of information is conveyed to the public via the weekly packets given to the Board before each meeting, but the PAUSD web-site would be a better place to convey the program-level information for public consumption.

I suspect that yearly reviews of Admins/Principals are not available for public consumption--so the value of the reviews would be rather "private". Is that fair to say, or are there ways that the public can gain access to these reviews.

Anyone know if any PAUSD Principals have been booted because of a review? It would be interesting to compile a list of Principals, and see how long most have stayed in their jobs. Every once in a while there seems to be some "problem" with a principal, but the details of what happened to resolve the "problem" never seems to make it into the public domain.

The Harvard Professional Education series probably doesn't do much to prepare a person for being a principal in the California Education System. None the less, it's probably fair to say that there is no "bad" preparation for this sort of job.



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Posted by something is not right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 11:58 am


Turnover can be healthy in a centrally managed system, but in a district where decisions are mostly site based, and there is a teacher's union basically running everything, the incentive is probably to "ride" out a Principal or vice-versa. Administering and leadership are two different things. Winston was a leader, and that's why he gained respect.

The Superintendent position which actually should have more turnover seems like a life appointment in PAUSD and makes for a slow awkward annoying system. Real improvements are on the margin, power players or squeaky wheels get attention, and huge amounts of time are dedicated to propping up the Superintendent, including now hiring a $150,000 Communications secretary fro him. Happy is when a massive bond is approved, a million dollar donation is received, and success is measured by how the top students are doing. When real problems have to be solved, like special-ed issues or the achievement gap, it's considered a "disruption" to this happy camp.

I've heard of dozens of special needs students being farmed out to special schools because PAUSD cannot handle them in the regular system. Some of them have Attention Deficit Disorders, but that's such a "disruption" to our classrooms right? Instead of paying so much money to farm these kids out (add up the money over the years) why couldn't PAUSD invest and creatively serve these students better. Not everyone is Harvard bound here. As a matter of fact, there many more Paly students heading to gap years than to Harvard.

We can't fire bad teachers, which Paly by the way boasts plenty, but we are ok with turnover at the Admin level. This is not like a CEO situation, because a good CEO could fire the worst and hire the best.

And we can't seem to have a healthy turnover at the real top.

We need to elect board members who can see this for what it is, and to propose changes.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm

@Wayne,
I'm sure it is difficult to "know" the good apples from the bad apples. But there is no mistaking that the tone and atmosphere at a school is indeed set from the top - the principal is crucial. I avoided getting into specific examples, but at PALY there have been a bunch of wildly different principals and student/parent experiences are commensurately wildly different. I will make one minor mention: there was a PALY principal who prioritized football over the arts (did not attend music events) whereas his successor impressed me by being visible supporting the latter. We all have things that are important to us, and the "Visible" type principal is probably important to more of us...some do not put in appearances around campus. I know nothing about the current (just resigned) PALY principal except he seems much milder than past ones (I could cite one I cited favorably above as a contrast because she conflicted with a set of parents - not us - not all that long ago and had a short tenure at PALY)-
So some things will be good for some people, and other things good for other people, but a clear emphasis on pleasant, efficient, accessible leadership on campus with all constituencies is most important IMO.


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Posted by Mixed bag
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm

There are stats available to show average stay of superintendent is only a few years and average stay for a principal in California is shirking as well, but Kevin Skelly's third year did result in a transition that was not regular. He often blames it on retirement, but keep in mind people will retire often in troubled times, and 2009-2010 was one of those times. This is a difficult time right now for principals. Skelly has pushed out or transferred the principals or assistant principals that he could during his six years, he cannot afford to lose their support in his own troubled time. The Terman principal move to the district office is suspect. She was under a lot of scrutiny as this was done. That is now a pattern with Skelly. he moves people when the heat is applied to him. The timing of the Palo Alto High principal's reassignment, though voluntary, is a bit questionable. All principals and superintendents must endure a high amount of stress and it is unfortunately common for many to have serious illnesses in their career, and continue working. Working as a teacher, if we use the postings of teachers on this forum, is extremely difficult and rewarding, but it, too, is very stressful. A very few parents in Palo Alto behave out of bounds, but do not forget the negative power of the very few teachers who misuse a union's power on some of these principals as well. I've checked on the Harvard summer seminars that the principals attend and I'm told they are no different than the ones available all over California. Skelly did go to Harvard, he certainly would not have been hired without that brand, and he does his alma mater a service when he authorizes some $40-50 thousand for what looks like a week of vacation. If this Harvard institute is so good, why is there so much turnover in the principal ranks? Life-work balance is management 101.


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Posted by Get it right
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 22, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Palo Alto High's nickname is Paly, not PALY, which is an acronym. The name, "Paly" should not be all capital letters.


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Posted by :(
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 22, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I'm so sad that Mr. Winston resigned. What will we do now? He helped our school so much.


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