Ruth Tschumy
Education Matters
Ruth Tschumy

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Isle principals
see big changes
on the horizon

As summer wanes, Hawaii's 256 public school principals begin their own season of change. Big change.

Act 51, the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, seeks to transform principals into the CEOs and CFOs of multimillion-dollar "companies" -- their schools.

Starting with the 2006-'07 school year, resources will be allotted to schools in dollars rather than in staff positions. Getting money rather than people is a radical change for principals, requiring new skills and the retooling of old ones. Decision making will begin to move down the ladder to the school level, and principals will be asked to develop budgets, create and analyze student performance data, and make decisions about staffing. The bottom line is improved student achievement, and all decisions made by principals will be evaluated against this objective.

Three provisions in Act 51 specifically deal with empowering principals: 12-month work periods, performance contracts and mandatory training.

Until last month, it could be said that Hawaii's principals were part-time because their work period was 10 months. Now their 10-month contracts have been converted to 12 months, reflecting the important role these leaders play in their schools' success.

Not all principals are happy with this change, but many see it as recognition of and compensation for the work they already put in during their two-month unpaid hiatus. Most principals feel their work plates are overflowing, and since Act 51 has added to the plates, the new schedule will give them valuable time.

By '06-'07, Hawaii's principals will work under multi-year performance contracts that specifically link job performance with a set of rewards and sanctions. Several school systems, including those in San Francisco and Houston, have adopted performance contracting for their principals. Incentives for principals who meet high performance levels are still under discussion but one suggestion is cash rewards for both the school and the principal.

Though details of the performance contract are still being finalized, the plan is to field test a prototype contract this school year with one elementary, one middle/intermediate and one high school principal in each complex area.

To help principals take on new responsibilities and work with their School Community Councils (an advisory team of school stakeholders), the Department of Education has launched the Hawaii Principals Academy. Principals will be required to participate in four institutes: Preparing the School's Academic and Financial Plan, Resource Management for the AFP, Adaptive Schools (organizational management and team building), and Presentation/Communication Skills.

The dollar resources schools will receive must be spent in accordance with the school's Academic and Financial Plan, the school's blueprint for action. Giving principals the skills to develop this essential plan is the main focus of the Hawaii Principals Academy.

Will these changes stem the flow of principals leaving their jobs or increase the exodus? During the past school year, nearly one-quarter of Hawaii's principals retired or left their jobs. Many principals believe they are held accountable for results, but they have little control over the resources needed to achieve these results. Will Act 51 result in principals having more control over their resources?

Superintendent of Schools Pat Hamamoto believes Act 51 is about "unleashing the creative potential in principals" and believes her job is to prepare the school system for independence. Do principals want independence? Are all layers of the state DOE ready to let go of the reins? Time will tell, but it looks promising.

Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.

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