State Legislatures talked with Idaho Senator John Goedde, chair of the Senate Education Committee, about the role of school leadership.
State Legislatures: Why have you become involved in making sure schools in Idaho have high-quality principals?
Senator Goedde: It is part of the job of a legislator to address a problem when they are made aware of one. I attended a Wallace Foundation seminar concerning education leaders because I knew anecdotally that some principals had the ability to lead their schools beyond where they should be statistically. The Wallace Foundation confirmed my thoughts with good data and testimonials from program participants. Business also knows the importance of school principals. I would point out the Union Pacific program for principals in schools served by their railroad. One thing which has become evident in my search for answers is that new principals need mentoring just as much as new teachers.
SL: Do you see an effective principal as a lever to increase student achievement? Recruit and retain quality teachers? Close the achievement gap? Turn around low-performing schools?
Senator Goedde: These are loaded questions but the answer is yes to every instance. The key is providing new principals, in their formal training, the tools they need to effectively run their schools. Administrator candidates should also be screened prior to acceptance into formal training. As much as salary, teachers yearn for support in their endeavors from school leaders, so principals must be able to offer that support with suggestions on how they can be more effective in their classrooms. A teacher who feels supported will stay on the “team” and news of a supportive principal will make recruitment much easier. Effective teachers in challenged schools shrink the achievement gap.
SL: Research shows that quality school leadership is second only to teaching among school factors in determining how well students perform. Has it been difficult to sell the importance of school leadership at the local level? Do educators, parents and community members in Idaho value principals?
Senator Goedde: When I served on a local school board there was a real effort to drive expenditures down to the classroom level. On a state level, we often specifically designate uses for funds to make sure that is where they are spent. In those times, we take away a potential local management tool. My perception of a teacher’s appreciation of an administrator varies with the quality of the work they do and that is all over the board right now. Idaho is working diligently on formalizing a teacher evaluation process and it is my hope that, following completion of that task, we develop a similar tool to evaluate principals.
SL: As a state legislator, and chair of the Senate Education Committee in Idaho, what is your role in ensuring that schools have quality principals?
Senator Goedde: My first task is reviewing available information on the subject. I have been fortunate to have been exposed to great information from programs across the country and it is my duty to bring that information to Idaho. In Idaho, the Education Committee sets policy but our Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee sets budgets. In most instances, setting policy precedes funding programs based on that policy but, if you can’t be somewhat assured of funding, setting all the policy in the world will do no one any good. Hopefully, with consensus from school boards, administrators, and teachers, Idaho can move forward in their efforts to better the education provided our children.
SL: What efforts have you made in Idaho to strengthen and support effective school principals, such as recruiting, preparing and providing ongoing support?
Senator Goedde: Idaho is currently looking at the teacher evaluation process through a task force called by the State Superintendent. I sit on that task force and our draft proposal is being vetted regionally right now. A cornerstone of that proposal is providing principals with professional development programs so they are comfortable with the process. The Senate Education Committee has invited leaders in the various schools of education on our state to present to the committee; outlining their efforts at making their administrator programs more relevant to what principals will face in their buildings.
SL: Is school leadership on your agenda for the 2009 legislative session? If so, what types of policies are you hoping to put in place?
Senator Goedde: Whatever might come forward this year will have a small price tag. I do believe we will see legislation to effect the changes needed to implement a statewide teacher evaluation structure but that may be the extent of it in 2009. Our state superintendent has a piece in his budget to develop a pay for performance program that would include school leaders but I don’t see the funding to start it this next fiscal year.
Leadership (noun) October/November 2008 Article