Who is at the helm, and how long have they been there? When I talk to folks about schools, I often hear about teacher quality and parental involvement. However, I have to believe that strong leadership within the school is also critical to a school’s success. A principal/headmaster with a clear vision and the leadership skills to enact that vision must be critical to a successful school, right? Without that, a school would be careening off in all directions with no clear philosophy.
My school tours public and private generally supported this theory. Schools that I have had concerns about have universally had unimpressive leaders at the helm. However, schools that impressed me on paper or on the tour had mixed results. All of the highly regarded (suburban) schools that I visited had impressive principals/headmasters with, in some cases, decades of longevity. On the other hand, the two most highly regarded Philadelphia public schools that I visited each had principals, while both impressive and in every way seemingly very competent, had only been in their jobs for less than a year. At least one of those city schools has not had a principal stay at their school for more than a few years in decades. (Forgive me my journalistic shortcomings–I did not get specifics here and my memory may not serve me well here. Take this statement with a +/-10% margin of error. Regardless of the exact numbers, my point is the same.) So how have these schools survived and thrived?
My sense is that they have thrived in spite of the revolving door of leadership. That is, their strong teachers and parents bolstered the school through the uncertain leadership. Plus, the principals themselves may have been great, and their short tenures just the result of unfortunate circumstance.
Regardless, I highly recommend taking the time to meet with the school principal when you evaluate a school. Hearing them talk for a few minutes will give you a wealth of information about the school that you are considering.