School Principal ‘Crisis' Inspires New UNT Dallas Collaboration

Urban school district principals last less than three years on the job, on average, according to the North Texas Principal Impact Collaborative

At the start of any given school day, it would not be a surprise for the principal to be among the very first to arrive. The surprise comes when the principal is among the first to leave – for good.

A North Texas organization, dedicated to supporting and fostering the development of school leaders, considers the rate at which urban school district principals leave their posts – an average of every two-and-a-half years - to be a “crisis.”

“There is absolutely a crisis for principals, for school leaders, and for public schools,” said Alejandra Barbosa, the Program Director at the Principal Impact Collaborative (PIC).

PIC offers a two-year fellowship program for principals to develop leadership and innovative thinking skills, in the interest of inspiring them to thrive in the job they have despite its many potential pitfalls.

“It’s a hard job. The role has gotten harder over the years. We now ask principals to be an operations manager, an instructional leader a coach, a cheerleader a parental support. So the job is really hard, and they don’t get the support they deserve,” Barbosa said.

This week PIC announced it has found a new, permanent home on the campus of the University of North Texas - Dallas.

The two organizations celebrated the new partnership with a breakfast event on Thursday, which included some of the current PIC participants, as well as successful graduates of the program.

Aleia McDaniel was among the proud graduates. McDaniel is the middle school principal for Uplift Summit International, a charter school in Dallas.

“I’m one of the success stories. When I started PIC my intention after that first year was to leave [my position as principal.] As a matter of fact I put in my resignation during the middle of my second year [on the job] and decided to stay because of the tremendous work and development that I had with principal impact,” McDaniel said. “With all of that work it really inspired me and taught me that I can keep going, that I can be good for my school. And we have seen success from that, so I am in it for the long-haul.”

The concern about good school principals leaving a particular post too soon is the trickle-down effect, according to Barbosa of PIC. If a good principal leaves, a good teacher may be less inclined to stay at that particular school which, in turn, leads to inconsistency in the classroom for the students at that school.

“If we think about any of our jobs - a lot of times what makes our job great is our boss. Or a bad boss can make our job really painful. And so [if] the teacher loses a leader they respected they are less excited to stay in that role,” Barbosa said.

Sandi Massey has seen it happen far too often. Massey has been the principal at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Dallas Independent School District for the past six years. And in that time she said several of her peers have left their particular posts quickly, for a variety of reasons, which has led to a variety of less-than-desirable results.

“As many areas as students have that they are concerned about in their lives, the one thing they should not be concerned about is, ‘Is their teacher going to be there the next day?’” Massey said.

Massey is currently enrolled in the PIC fellowship at UNT Dallas because she said she is looking to be inspired by her peers, and to find new ways to keep inspiring her students and her staff.

“That is vital, I think, if you can stick through those challenges [that being a frustrated principal can present.] It really creates character and builds you as a leader, but also creates an opportunity for your school to excel, which has happened at my school.”

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