When research was done looking at schools that defied national patterns, strong or charismatic principals were found to be one of the keys to those successes, Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Mark Stock said.
In refining that work, though, the emphasis has changed to a strong principal supported by a strong district, he said.
“They’ve found that good schools with good principals only stay good schools as long as there’s a good principal, unless they’re attached to a good system,” he said. “Good school systems tend to foster a lot more good schools because the principals have the support they need, and that’s been a district lack here that we’re now trying to focus on.”
Work to support principals from the administrative level is in progress in the district, he said.
“In the past, the central office’s main role was to hire a principal or fire a principal, and the principal then has all the influence at the local site level,” Stock said.
The new work attempts to offer more training and support to principals so they can better grow and support their teachers, he said.
“We can’t just evaluate a principal. We have to coach, mentor, support and train,” he said.
Several administrators are already on growth plans, he said. The process is to help principals develop their skills.
Additionally, administrators will start observing principals as they work with teachers, parents or staff, Stock said.
“In Wyoming, we have a huge gap between being certified and being trained,” he said.
In some states, additional training is offered for principals after they’ve been working for a while, he said.
In Wyoming, the changes to better support and train principals also include work being done on a statewide level through the Wyoming Instructional Leadership Network, Stock said.
There are networks being built across the state as part of the process, said Uinta County School District 1 Superintendent James Bailey. He is the southwest coordinator for the principals’ academy with the leadership network.
The group has met a few times and is set to have two more trainings this spring, he said.
“The primary goal is to get central office personnel to know and gain some skills to support principal growth,” he said. “The second goal is to work with principals on some of the actionable skills that they need to continue to improve their instructional leadership.”
Not all of the school districts in the state are participating this year, but the plan is to increase the number involved next year.
“It’s an ongoing way to continue to focus on principals, who have been left out of the discussion over the last decade on school improvement,” Bailey said. “We’re trying to put them as a major part of improving student achievement.”