How Do Principals Get Picked?

Many here have asked, how are principals placed? That's a difficult question to answer simply because the district does NOT follow a specific path. In the past they have:
  • hired outside principals (that happened last year for Aki and AAA)
  • picked ( and shuffled) from within the SPS principal pool
  • allowed schools to form a committee usually made up of parents, staff (certificated and non), community members and sometimes (at the high school level) students who interview vetted candidates (vetted by both the committee and SPS Human Resources)
With the last one, again, this is done in many ways. There was deep unhappiness several years back when Garfield's committee picked one candidate as the best but the district went with the other one. Being on the committee is a lot of work and people take it very seriously so to have the district go the other way on a decision is hard to take.

In the end, no matter what, the superintendent makes the final decision. (Well, there is one private group representing a school that gets a private interview with candidates after the committee interview and a discussion with the superintendent. Let's all guess together what group that is. )

Naturally, this lack of understanding for how principals are placed is a source of frustration (during regular times) and great worry (during times of crisis). For closures this has a host of questions like:
  • where does a closed program principal go? Is it a reflection on that principal's abilities if the program is closing? Who decides what is best to do to shore up a program?
In the case of Lowell, I'd think it might make sense (and ease the minds of APP parents) if the current principal of Lowell goes to Thurgood Marshall. Not because the Marshall principal isn't good (I don't know) but you're talking about bringing in a very specific program with a differently-abled group of kids. I think it would be hard for a principal not schooled in gifted programs/kids. Also, I'd take a head teacher from Lowell to help the adjustment for the current Thurgood teachers. If you leave the majority of teachers behind at Lowell, those teachers can be the guide for a new principal. (This is just me thinking out loud; I could be wrong.) Maybe that's just too much change for Thurgood Marshall but change is coming and if the district wants success they need people who know how to make the program work.

The Principals' Association of Seattle Schools (PASS), the principals' union, has been fairly quiet here but I'm sure there are rules on what happens in these cases. I can't seem to locate a website for them but on the Association of Washington School Principals website, SPS is advertising for their pool for both principals and assistant principals.


Sue said…
Well I can tell you first hand how they get picked. The district decides. Bottom line They can claim that parent input is welcomed and important, they can trot out the charade of hiring committees and interviews, but when the rubber hits the road, they put in who they want. Unfortunately, it results in situations where principals who should no longer be in that job, or who do not fit the school, get put there, because the district has no where else to put them. And then of course, there is NO way to get them out. Am I bitter? Yes indeed.

All I have to say is look out all schools in the district this time around. You may be surprised and disappointed in who you get, and you won't be able to do a thing about it.
Charlie Mas said…
There is an assistant principal at Lowell who may find himself the principal at either Lowell or Thurgood Marshall.

I'm a bit troubled by the fact that the principal is leading the design team. If you're looking for change, why have the effort led by the person responsible for the status quo?

If the principal thought things should be done differently, wouldn't they arleady be doing things that way?
Anonymous said…
Charlie, you said:

"There is an assistant principal at Lowell who may find himself the principal at either Lowell or Thurgood Marshall."

Do you know something the rest of us don't? As far as I know, there IS no "assistant principal" at Lowell, though there is a co-principal, Dewanda Cook-Weaver, who is listed as being the "special-ed principal" on the website. There is no male vice, co, or assistant principal there.

Can you clarify?
hschinske said…
"There is an assistant principal at Lowell who may find himself the principal at either Lowell or Thurgood Marshall."

Ahem. Herself (assuming you mean DeWanda Cook-Weaver). Ms. Cook-Weaver's title is Special Education Principal, so it might make more sense for her to stay at Lowell, but as the school will be just as big as before, there will presumably be just as much need for two principals.

Helen Schinske
TechyMom said…
Now I'm confused... I thought one of the main reasons for moving to bigger schools was to have to pay fewer principals. But big schools get 2? So, why are we doing this again?
Charlie Mas said…
Big schools - really big schools with more than 500 students - get an assistant principal under the Weighted Staffing Standard.

Sorry about my misunderstanding regarding the assistant principal or co-principal at Lowell. I misremembered it and didn't check the facts before I wrote. My bad.
seattle citizen said…
"Curiouser and curiouser..."

So Lowell currently has two principals? Because it has two programs?
Washington has "two programs" (regular and APP) but it only has one...
Will Hamilton have two? Will the two APP elementaries have two? Is there a reason that a school with special ed and APP gets two, while a school with general ed and APP only gets one?
What about Spectrum? Two principals per school?
Does each "program" get its own principal?

"...said the [silly] [w]abbit."
another mom said…
These closures/consolidations were presented to the public as a fiscal crisis. It is time to ask the board about the actual reduction of FTE's in the final proposal. Does this plan actually save money, cost money, or is it revenue neutral? The savings to the capital budget are different than the operating budget. When they speak about 16 million in savings over the next 5 years, what does that really mean?
hschinske said…
Lowell had one principal until fairly recently (possibly because the enrollment had been too small until recently, I'm not sure). Julie Breidenbach asked for and got an assistant principal. Later the role was redefined as co-principal. There have been three different assistant/co-principals in the past few years, two of whom were male (Joe Powell and Robert Radford).

Helen Schinske
Jet City mom said…
oh lordy
I have been on two principal hiring committees & multiple teacher hiring committees.
I will say that being that the WASL is on the way out, this may give the district incentive to approve principal/teacher selections that aren't clear WASL supporters.

It is an interesting and frustrating process- I feel that it is tightly controlled by union reqs, which restricts the information gathering on both sides, unless you are very experienced in how you word your questions initially.

I have been on committees, that there was a clear majority, but the committee leader decided that wasn't enough, and deferred it to the principal ( who wasn't present)

I have been on committees where it was clear the applicant just wanted into the district and was good at addressing what the committee wanted to hear.
Again it helps to have experienced committees so you are finding out useful information- not just accepting whoever doesn't use stationery with teddy bears on it.

It would be helpful to be able to observe some of these candidates in action, but not an option.
Considering that once they are hired- it seems like it is for life, a little foresight would go a long way.
Anonymous said…
If you look at the principal ratings made in the staff surveys, Whittier ranks at the bottom of the list by a good bit. There's good reason for that- the principal is largely absent, and when she does show up it is to be abusive to parents and staff.

Naturally, everyone at Whittier would very much like to know that we will get a new principal next year- before parents pick schools and before teachers choose whether to stay or not. What action do you think those at the school should take to help influence the process?
Rick, this is disheartening to me because my sons went to Whittier and we had good principals (namely, Greg Imel).

Hard to get rid of a teacher? Even more difficult to change principals. What I would say is a united front from teachers and parents would be good. If you say the principal is not there, document it. Is that a perception or a reality? Does the principal have an illness that may keep him/her out of the building on a regular basis? If the person is abusive, document it. What was said, when and what context? Is it abuse or detachment? Is it abuse or lack of interest? If teachers feel abused, that's a very different thing from the parents as the school is their workplace. Also, has the principal established a working relationship with the PTA? Does he/she go to meetings, be available to the PTA to consult on school activities and have a regular monthly meeting with the PTA president(s)? Have you made contact with the Elementary School director for Whittier and told him or her about these concerns?

If you are to get any traction on this issue, there has to be a timeline, documentation of underperformance and clear unprofessional behavior.

Having said all this, if the principal knows the parents/teachers are trying to get rid of him or her, it could make the situation worse. Of course, if you have reached the total frustration level and some teachers are thinking of leaving, you have nothing to lose. (It saddens me to think of teachers leaving; that's a pretty strong teacher corps there.)
Anonymous said…
Yes- the staff at Whittier is very strong. The principal is classically incompetent but has unfortunately not done anything firable like being sexually lewd in public. She has been pushed out of other schools in the district before- she apparently can't be fired so after getting pushed out she spends a couple years downtown, then goes into a different school and the same cycle repeats. She's really, really worn out her welcome at Whittier and the school is on the verge of suffering long term damage.

There is a long paper trail but it is not clear where to take it, particularly if you want to stay anonymous. The principal also has an extensive enemies list and it's scary to be on it, as she spends most of her energy focused on her enemies.

If the SPS blog is interested in posting an article on the topic please contact my email and I can send some materials. It doesn't please me to go down a public route but I've heard nothing from the district that offers hope for an appropriate change at the school. It seems like soon after the school reduction plan is published would be a good time to push...
Sue said…
RE: Whittier. Great School. Great teachers. Great community. Wonderful students.
Unfortunate leadership:(Cothron McMillian).

I think that the Whittier school community is strong enough to make it through her tenure, but it is not going to be easy.

Which brings the question-what if all the steps Melissa listed (documentation, etc) have been done, and still nothing happens? What do you do then? It is clear to me that this district will NOT remove a principal, even if they a) Abuse the staff (see Greenwood and many other schools)
b) Know a teacher is abusing students (see Broadview Thompson, and again - many other schools)

It seems that the district acts much like the Catholic Church used too - shuffling bad people from school to school. I suppose the reason is that it is too expensive to pay them off, but it does make me wonder what their priorities are.
Jet City mom said…
[i]She has been pushed out of other schools in the district before- she apparently can't be fired so after getting pushed out she spends a couple years downtown, then goes into a different school and the same cycle repeats.[/i]

She isn't the only one in that cycle- that seems like an expensive process- are we a system to educate children or are we an adult employment agency?
Charlie Mas said…
The person to contact is the education director. This person is the principal's supervisor and the person responsible for the principal's performance review.

It isn't actually impossible to get rid of a poorly peforming teacher or principal, but it requires a paper trail of a cycle of performance reviews, support, and repeated failure over the course of about two years. The primary break down has been the failure of supervisors, principals and education directors, to complete the reviews, provide the support and file their documents on a timely basis. Miss a deadline and it's back to the start.

Ever wonder why they get two years' pay when they are cut loose? It's the pay they would have recieved during the two years that the District needs to build the case to fire them.

Under the new administration, we're supposed to have real management with real performance reviews. Supervisors, whether principals or education directors, are supposed to be held accountable for conducting their performance reviews and submitting their paperwork on a timely basis.

So if a teacher or principal isn't performing, not only will it go badly for the teacher or the principal, but, starting now, it will go badly for the supervisor who didn't do their job and document the poor performance.

I say that you put the pressure on the education director.

And yes, Cothron McMillian is a nightmare. Her last principal job was at High Point. She is, however, politically connected within the District and, I believe, a former PASS president. Funny how that happens. Joe Drake was also politically connected within the District and a one-time PASS president.
Anonymous said…
Much thanks for the feedback. I contacted Carla Santorno and may do so again, but the feedback is not promising. Not that it's her fault- all she can offer to the public is platitudes and defense of her staff.

If you read between the lines though, Cothron is in our school and being recycled because of the administration. Out of self preservation they need to defend her, hoping she'll limp forward to retirement rather than having to deal with the kerfuffle of pushing her out. Joe Drake would arguably still be a principal were it not for the press embarrassing the district.

So I hope this topic gets more attention going forward. While school closures are sad and disruptive, they are understandable. The district keeping Cothron is indicative of a complete administrative breakdown. I'm not sure I have faith in the ability of the system to heal itself here, and school closures present a golden opportunity...
Whittier is again faced with a non qualified principal and a non responsive administration. The documentation which should be enough to get her removed from the school and the lack of interest from the administration to effectivly deal with this problem is having it's negative toll on the quality of education available to the children. Teachers are upset and leaving and many hours of the teachers time is spent defending themselves from her random harassment. It is due time for the parents to demand action from the administration. It is time to demand resignations from principals such as Cothron and the over paid administrators that "managed" the schools into this mess again.
Eddie said…
Whittier school has a wonderful staff. It is really sad to witness what is happening to what once was a great school. The staff has complained to SEA and to the administration downtown without getting any help at all. The staff survey is the worst ever. How can SPS be so stupid? The morale is awful and of course if staff are unhappy this can only start to hamper the educational process. I have worked in the past with this awful principal. She puts on a great 'front' to the community. She is a long-time member and advocate of Rotary and emphasizes this again and again to make herself look good to the parents and to downtown administration. By the way, this is where she spends her time on Tuesdays for long lunches when she should be attending to school business.
Staff at every school she has worked at will tell you that she has her 'favorites' and her motto seems to be 'divide and conquer'.
Parents at Whittier need to rally like the ones at Laurelhurst did several years ago and get this principal out, once and for all. Or be brave like Sanislo and literally refuse to accept her as as a Principal. Of course SPS in their infinite wisdom will probably just pass her on to some other poor undeserving school.
Travelbug said…
Oh this is disheartening indeed. This incompetent principal is slated to come to Brighton next year. We have no documentation of her abuses. How do we stop her from coming here?
Travelbug said…
Well Cothron has been at Brighton for a year,and yes she is incompetent and Brighton does not have the parent support to take this issue further. It is sad to see what she can do to a school. Approximately 20% of the staff are leaving at the end of this year. Very unfortunate since it is the children who ulimately suffer.
Anonymous said…
Cothron tends to have her "chosen few" that she adores and can do no wrong, and her "chosen few" that she drives into the ground!
MLK Teacher said…
You no longer need to worry about Cothron McMillian anymore. She has recently been removed on allegations of sexual harassing teachers through texting. Todd Winifred is now taking her place at MLK.

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