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Students aren’t the only ones graduating this June, there are also 16 principals heading out the school doors. Some are switching jobs, others retiring. Outgoing Superintendent Bill Kowba mentioned the exodus during a recent talk with a group of parents, adding that more departures will be coming.

Why Are They leaving?

Nine of the vacancies are due to retirements taking effect on July 1. But, the most high-profile move is that by Cindy Marten, plucked by the school board from her job as principal of Central Elementary to be the district’s new superintendent, also on July 1.

Marten then chose Staci Monreal, principal of Marshall Elementary School, as her new chief of staff.

School principals are on the front lines dealing with problem students, angry parents, all the while trying to oversee teachers.

Not just in San Diego, but across the country, it has gotten harder to entice people into school administration.

Under the requirements of No Child Left Behind, principals face constant pressure to improve student achievement. If they don’t, their school can receive the dreaded “Program Improvement” designation, which comes with the threat of being taken over by the state or having all of the staff replaced if things don’t improve over time.

Compared to a teacher at the top of the pay scale, principals work longer hours for not much more pay. The top teacher salary is $78,416 in San Diego schools, while the beginning minimum salary for an elementary or middle school principal is $97,295 and $101,485 for a high school principal.

Principals earn more with years of service, but the job is salaried and principals don’t earn overtime. Ruth Peshkoff, executive director for the administrators union, said most principals she knows work seven days a week.

So, What’s Going on?

The district’s human resources chief, Lamont Jackson, would not specify which schools have lost or will soon lose their principals, saying that principals may not have informed their staff of the news yet. Some of the schools that have already been affected by the departures can be gleaned from job listings on the district’s website. In recent weeks, there have been principal openings advertised at Washington and Hickman elementary schools and at John Muir, a K-12 school. In May, new principals were announced for Dana Middle School and Lee, Dailard and Scripps elementary schools.

Peshkoff said there was a small retirement incentive, a lump sum of $25,000, which she termed “not so generous that it could cause a stampede.” She said most vacancies are from planned retirements. Principals typically retire between the ages of 60 and 62, she said.

Jackson said “this is not an unusual number of vacancies as we are a large district.” Last year, with the same incentive in place, there were just four principals who took the retirement offer.

Shuffling principals is not uncommon. Some seek career advancement by moving to a larger school or to another management position. All of this is normal, said chief of staff Bernie Rhinerson. “We have an aging workforce, it’s no different than any other organization,” he said.

Like many districts, San Diego Unified has a program to replace the wave of Baby Boomer principals who are expected to retire in the coming years. Aspiring Administrators, is a partnership with San Diego State University, in which teachers can earn the administrative credential required to be a principal.

“We wanted to grow our own leadership capacity from within the district,” said assistant superintendent of instructional support services Sid Salazar. Begun in 2010, the training program allows teachers to earn an administrative credential while continuing to work, gives them six days of paid time for professional development, and teams them up with a mentor.

The Aspiring Administrators program will begin training its fourth cohort of teachers this fall. This year’s class will be the largest yet, with 36. In all, 95 teachers will have graduated from the program when the current cohort completes the three semesters of training required, according to Salazar. The entry-level position for graduates is typically vice principal. Four graduates of the program have become administrators in the San Diego Unified School District thus far.

“I am actually very optimistic, based on the development of this particular program, that we’re going to have a good cadre of people that are extremely knowledgeable” waiting to fill the wave of projected principal openings coming in the near future, Salazar said.

Who Wants the Job?

Teachers are in the classroom 179 days, four of which are prep days with no children, and they have five furlough days. Elementary and middle school principals are expected to report to work 209 days.  Maximum pay for the job is $118,331. The working year is longer for high school principals: 218 days with a maximum salary of $123,427.

“The role of the principal has shifted from managing a budget, maintaining a safe campus, evaluating staff, and focusing on the smooth operations of the school,” said Peshkoff.  “To that plate, now add deep knowledge of curriculum and instruction.  Principals are responsible for analyzing student performance data, and working with teachers and groups of teachers to provide targeted interventions in an effort to raise student achievement among subgroups of students, coaching teachers to improve their practice, providing constant feedback, and procuring support and resources continuously.  The stakes are relentless.”

“On top of that, principals are responsible for complying with a zillion state and federal laws, collective bargaining provisions, district policies and regulations and for implementing new curriculum and sweeping new educational reforms that come down the pike like clockwork from the federal, state and local level,” Peshkoff explained.

Back to School in the Fall?

Rhinerson said the summer is always a time of change, with job openings being advertised and interviews continuing. “By the beginning of the school year, things settle down, but at the end of the school year, there’s a flurry of activity. It’s just a cycle we go through every year.”

By fall, if the vacancies aren’t filled, retired principals are often called upon to fill the gap on a temporary basis. Vice principals sometimes get the permanent job, but not all schools have leadership waiting in the wings. Whether or not a school has a vice principal depends on school enrollment. Large elementary schools, like Central Elementary, with about 900 kids get them, as do most middle schools and high schools.

As this story was being prepared, the district was still looking for a principal at Central Elementary. The status of the job opening was listed as “re-opened-extended.”

Anyone interested?

Christie Ritter

Christie Ritter is a freelance writer for Voice of San Diego, author of four books and a former newspaper reporter. She is a graduate of Clairemont High,...

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