Are Young Principals Good for Struggling High Schools?

By Jessica Lyons


Newark Schools Bring in Some Young Blood

When the Newark school district hired 17 new principals this year, 11 of them were younger than 40, which has drawn some criticism. Alturrick Kenny, a member of the advisory board for the city's schools, categorized the move by schools superintendent Cami Anderson as being 'a real dramatic approach' in an September 2011 article in The New York Times. Comparing it to having many new players on a basketball team, Kenny also noted that 'you bring in a group of rookies, and they will typically be outperformed by the veterans.'

A Good or Bad Idea?

It can be easy to assume that, when seeking a leader, someone with many, many years of experience will be the desired target. But sometimes being newer in a field could have its benefits.

First of all, a younger principal might be more likely to bring fresh eyes to look critically at changes that need to be made, and could also be able to contribute fresh ideas. Veterans of the field might be more set in their ways and not necessarily as likely to try something different. After decades on the job, it could become all too easy to just stick with the status quo, but a younger leader might be more willing to shake things up when needed.

There's also something to be said for the excitement these young leaders might bring to their new roles. As City Association of Supervisors and Administrators president Leonard P. Pugliese put it in The New York Times, the new principals 'have a gleam in their eye.' This enthusiasm could easily spread to others in the school and help motivate them to work towards improving their environment.

Making it Work

Newark might have the right idea when it comes to trying to make the most of this situation, which includes providing the new group of principals with a support system. Not only will the principals be trained, but they will also be mentored by a group of administrators. Giving the new leaders the support and encouragement they need to succeed can help them do well in their positions; they'll have others to bounce ideas off of or to look to for insight. These administrators will also evaluate the principals, so if there are problems they hopefully won't go unnoticed.

When changes are necessary because a school is in bad shape, sometimes it's important to try something different, which could include hiring younger talent than is typical. People shouldn't rule out the potential success these younger principals might achieve merely because of their age, since good ideas and work can come at any time of life.

In Michigan, schools are hoping to make improvements by implementing an Education Achievement System.

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