Recruiting and Retaining Rural School Administrators.
by Howley, Aimee - Pendarvis, Edwina
School districts nationwide are finding it hard to recruit and retain
administrators. About half of all districts report a shortage of qualified
applicants, with rural districts reporting slightly larger percentages
(National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association
of Secondary School Principals, 1998). In general, the need for secondary
school principals seems to be somewhat greater than for elementary school
principals (Cooper, Fusarelli, & Carella, 2000). Rural states, such
as Vermont, report more unfilled principals' positions than in the past
(Hinton & Kastner, 2000); and most surveys, whatever the type of district,
indicate that the average tenure of administrators is shorter than it was
(Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000). Research has identified several reasons
for the shortage as well as strategies that show promise for eliminating
REASONS FOR THE SHORTAGE
Recent research (outlined below) suggests that job pressures may be
the most serious reason why school districts are finding it difficult to
recruit and retain educational leaders. Always demanding of time and energy,
the administrative roles of rural superintendents and principals are more
complex and perhaps more stressful than ever before. In the past 25 years,
administrators have had to address increasing demands for special programs,
collaborative decision making, and accountability. In addition, potential
for conflict with school boards and various constituencies is greater in
the face of the heightened diversity of many rural communities. Long hours
and relatively low salaries add to problems in recruiting and retaining
new leaders for rural schools, and these problems may intensify if retirements
occur at anticipated rates.
Pressure for increased programs, collaboration, and accountability.
Federal and state mandates have placed many new demands on administrators.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), for example, though
it has improved education for children with disabilities, adds to the complexity
of school administrators' roles. According to some sources, IDEA represents
a major barrier to recruiting qualified applicants (Ohio Department of
Education [ODE], 2001). School reform legislation that calls for site-based
governance is also perceived as making administration harder. Shared governance
requires school leaders to relinquish power as well as to make use of highly
developed skills in interpersonal communication, negotiation, and conflict
resolution (Madsen & Hipp, 1999).
State accountability requirements are another source of pressure (Howley,
Pendarvis, & Gibbs, 2002; Ramirez & Guzman, 1999). Alabama principals
regard accountability for academic performance--measured by test scores--as
the most significant change in their jobs during the past five years (Kochan,
Spencer, & Mathews, 1999).
Much of the pressure created by these mandates is caused by the lack
of resources needed to address them (Public Agenda, 2001). Superintendents
say inadequate resources detract most from their effectiveness (Glass et
al.,2000), and principals agree. For rural principals in Alabama, budgeting
and unfunded mandates present serious problems (Kochan, et al., 1999).
Moreover, funding problems in rural schools may increase with the "graying"
of rural America, if retirees on fixed incomes continue to reject higher
taxes for education.
Pressure on school leaders also comes from trying to reconcile the conflicting
expectations of different constituencies (Goens, 1998). Sometimes superintendents
leave one district for another because of conflict with an important constituency--their
school board. In fact, nearly 25 percent of superintendents who leave small
districts report conflict with the school board as their reason for leaving
(Glass et al., 2000).
Long hours and low salaries. Rural principals have traditionally worked
long hours because they are expected to attend numerous school and community
events, and the long hours needed to meet these responsibilities make the
principals' job seem unappealing (Howley, Pendarvis, et al., 2002; ODE,
2001). Secondary school principals report that working 60- to 80-hour weeks
is not uncommon (Yerkes & Guaglianone, 1998). Perhaps more typical
is the 45- to 60-hour week (Graham, 1997). Because of job pressures and
long hours, relatively low salaries can be especially demoralizing (Cooper
Inadequate salaries seem to play a role in discouraging educators from
applying for positions in rural districts (Cooper et al., 2000). On average,
rural principals earn almost a third less in yearly income than nonrural
principals; and the differential between teachers' and administrators'
salaries is smaller than in nonrural districts (Stern, 1994). If low salary
differential creates a disincentive for teachers to move into administration,
that disincentive may be most acute in rural districts.
Impending retirements. Because of the projected retirements of many
administrators in the near future, districts anticipate having a large
number of openings. During the 1990s, approximately 50 percent of all practicing
administrators reached retirement age (Yerkes & Guaglianone, 1998).
And some states now predict that during the early years of the 2000s there
will be a large increase in that percentage. The executive director of
the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, for example,
predicts that about 75 percent of Minnesota's high school principals will
be eligible to retire by 2005 (Pugmire, 1999).
STRATEGIES FOR RECRUITING AND RETAINING RURAL SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS
Recent research on the shortage of school administrators (described
below) offers some strategies for addressing the problem. Among these are
strategies positioned to improve recruitment of new administrators: (1)
publicizing the satisfactions of the job, (2) encouraging applications
from women and minorities, (3) improving salaries and benefits, and (4)
providing professional development programs that enable new administrators
to meet the challenges of educational leadership. Some of these strategies
may also help to increase retention of school leaders. Improved professional
development, for example, not only gives administrators the confidence
to take on the leadership role at the beginning of their careers, these
programs also provide administrators with the competence to achieve success
and, as a result, to realize satisfaction through their work. Satisfaction
associated with making a difference for children and families turns out
to be a powerful motivator for most administrators (Howley, Pendarvis,
et al., 2002). Another important strategy for retaining competent school
leaders is to help them build and sustain support networks. Such networks
have been found to be particularly encouraging to rural principals who
may not be able to find mentors and supportive colleagues within their
own districts (Howley, Chadwick, & Howley, 2002).
Publicize satisfactions of school administration. The job satisfaction
ratings of rural principals, except their ratings for income, are as high
as or higher than those of nonrural principals (Stern, 1994). And similarly
high levels of satisfaction are also reported by rural superintendents
(Ramirez & Guzman, 1999). Clearly, school leadership has satisfactions
as well as hardships. According to Howley, Pendarvis, and Gibbs (2002),
these satisfactions center on the ability to make a difference for children,
parents, teachers, and communities. Publicizing such satisfactions may
be an effective way to recruit teachers to positions of school leadership.
Recruit more women and minorities. Despite the predominance of female
teachers, administrative positions are held predominantly by men. And even
with increased numbers of female and minority group educators becoming
prepared as administrators, school districts continue mostly to hire white
men (Glass et al., 2000). Qualified women and minority educators provide
an important resource for meeting current and impending administrator shortages
(Cooper et al., 2000). To tap into this resource, however, districts will
need to become more open-minded about the types of individuals whom they
believe can achieve success as school leaders. And leadership preparation
programs will need to make special efforts to encourage women and minority
applicants by partnering with local "grow-your-own" and "aspiring principal"
Improve salaries and benefits. Even though many rural districts face
economic hardships, they should nevertheless think about investing in leadership.
Improved salaries are clearly one way to make this investment, but local
boards can also provide benefit packages that are attractive to principals
and superintendents (ODE, 2001). Providing stipends for advanced course
work, offering portable pension plans, and paying moving expenses are among
the optional benefits recommended in recent reports.
Improve professional development. Of superintendents in rural and smaller
districts, only 43 percent have doctorates, compared to 64 percent overall
(Cooper et al., 2000), suggesting a need to increase access to formal preparation
programs through distance learning and paid leave. Access to less formal
programs, especially those that focus on networking, also seems to be important
for increasing the competence as well as the job satisfaction of rural
administrators (Howley, Chadwick, et al., 2002). Indeed, relevant graduate
programs and other opportunities for professional development may be highly
effective in attracting new applicants, supporting the work of beginning
principals, and sustaining the enthusiasm of veteran administrators.
Rural school administration has been made more complex and stressful
by a changed social context. Difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified
administrators suggest an imbalance between the demands of the job and
the resources available to meet those demands, particularly in underfunded
districts. Research suggests the advisability of adopting specific strategies
to address the growing shortage. Among these, rural districts might specifically
want to focus on efforts to publicize the satisfactions of administration,
encourage applications from women and minorities, increase salary and benefits,
and provide access to relevant professional development.
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