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Dalrymple: Role of school principal 'has become a bit of a problem'

BISMARCK -- The role of school principal "has become a bit of a problem" that a recent study suggests should be split into two jobs, Gov. Jack Dalrymple told a group of North Dakota public education leaders Tuesday.

Speaking to the Joint Boards of Education at the Capitol, Dalrymple said the principal's time in most school districts is almost entirely consumed by managing students, including discipline and behavior issues.

"It's really more of a school management position than anything else, and we've kind of lost the original concept of the school principal from years gone by, which was that the principal was the main mentor to the teaching staff," he said.

The governor's Commission on Education Improvement, created in 2006 to address K-12 funding, discussed the idea of splitting the principal's roles, Dalrymple said. It didn't result in a formal recommendation or receive support from the Legislature, "but we felt that really the job of nurturing and mentoring teachers and the job of managing and providing discipline to students is two different things, and that those functions should be divided," he said.

"Actually, when you think about it, finding a person who is both a good teaching mentor, teacher support person, and also good at disciplining students, is a rare person, a very rare person ...," Dalrymple told the Joint Boards. "So that was another idea that I wanted to leave with your group because I think that's something that you could build on very much."

Bismarck Public Schools already has embraced the concept of splitting the roles, supplying Bismarck High School and Century High School each with a dean of students/activities director for the first time this fall.

Mike Heilman, the district's assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said the goal is to have the dean deal with discipline, attendance and other student issues to free up time for the principal and assistant principals to act as instructional leaders.

"We think we've got a pretty good plan in place," he said.

Fargo Public Schools doesn't have deans of students, but its organizational structure of principals, assistant principals and activities directors at all high schools and middle schools allows them to cover both student management and teacher evaluation and mentoring, Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

"It's a shared responsibility," he said.

Strinden said the issue may be more challenging for the state's smaller school districts, where the principal sometimes oversees grades K-12 and may double as the superintendent.

Funding is tight in some districts, and they've traditionally focused on adding instructional staff before administrators, which some believe are already too plentiful, he said.

"It's a really sticky issue," he said.

The governor's comments came at a time when the state Department of Public Instruction is developing new systems for evaluating principals and teachers.

The work began as part of the state's application in September 2012 for a waiver that would have released the state from certain accountability terms of the federal No Child Left Behind law. In exchange, the state had to develop rigorous and comprehensive plans to boost educational outcomes.

But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler withdrew the waiver application last spring, saying it would provide very little flexibility and relief for schools and teachers. Still, DPI decided to move ahead with two parts of the application: Common Core Standards for college and career readiness, and the principal/

teacher evaluation systems.

The committee that worked on the evaluations reassembled in August. Matt Strinden, DPI's director of teacher and school effectiveness, gave an update on the committee's work Tuesday to the Joint Boards of Education, which is made up of the Board of Public School Education, Board of Higher Education, Education Standards and Practices Board and the Board of Career and Technical Education.

Strinden said the committee's focus has shifted from teacher evaluations to principal evaluations, "with the belief that we need to have principals that can effectively evaluate teachers before we can have an effective teacher evaluation system."

One proposed change is to have four evaluation levels in the new plan instead of just two, satisfactory and unsatisfactory, Strinden said.

The evaluation factors also will include student achievement, which Strinden called "the elephant in the room."

He said it's up to the committee to decide how it will be used in evaluations.

Most North Dakota school districts now use commercially available evaluation models that adhere to national guidelines. But some don't, and the models vary widely from district to district, Strinden said.

The systems being developed by the 14-member committee -- comprised of school teachers and administrators from across the state, including Fargo and West Fargo -- will have components that school districts must incorporate into their own evaluation models. The timeline calls for the models to be adopted by the 2017-2018 school year, though there's no firm deadline yet, Strinden said.