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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2021-22
From the AWSP Executive Director
Mind the Gap
Principal wage compression is real. Here’s what we’re doing about it.
Dr. Scott Seaman
Executive Director, AWSP
For decades, the role of the school principal was to manage the school. From student schedules, to teacher assignments, to parent communications, to general supervision, to school finances, the principal managed the building. The job primarily existed between the hours of the school week with a layer of evening school activities sprinkled across the calendar. Having “principaled” during that era, I can easily say the job was definitely not easy, but it certainly pales in comparison to what we expect of our leaders now.
Over the course of many years of education reform, the role of the principal has shifted to not only include all of the management expectations, but also the additional responsibilities of serving as the lead learner of a constantly changing and evolving learning organization (more commonly referred to as “instructional leadership”). In the name of education reform and the intent to increase outcomes for students (which is the right cause), we have added more and more programs, policies, resources, initiatives, unfunded mandates, accountability measures, and reporting requirements without adding more building level principals and assistant principals.
Leadership matters. It has always mattered. As we climb out of the negative and long-term impacts of the pandemic, leadership will matter like never before. Working together, we must take steps to drastically improve the support of our leaders as they guide us forward and into the future. Our kids are counting on it.
We’ve also seen and felt the push for schools to serve as the hubs for mental, social, emotional, and physical health for each and every student. In other words, everything comes through the front doors of our schools and with that an untenable burden on our school principals.
We are at a breaking point.
Don’t believe me? Much has changed.
      • Principals created school culture and managed the systems to support that culture.
      • Principals create and try to sustain that culture while also dismantling bad-for-kids systems as they lead improvement, growth, and learning for everyone.
      • Principals held a position of respect among students, parents, staff, and the community. Now, principals survive until the next slanderous and false claims are made on social media.
      • Principals could handle the demands and expectations of the job within a semi-reasonable work week. Now, principals are reporting working 60-70 hours weekly while being “on call” emotionally 24 hours a day.
      • Principals could see the end of their week when the last student got on the bus.
      • Principals plan the beginning of the week based on what they were forwarded on social media over the weekend.
      • Principals worked 40 additional days and were compensated accordingly to represent the additional time. There used to be an 18-20% gap between the highest paid teachers and the lowest paid administrators. Now, that gap is about 4-6%.
      • Open principal positions would have 80-90 applicants in a rich pool of candidates with vast experience. Now, districts are lucky to have more than a handful of qualified and experienced candidates.
      • Principals had policies and resources to help them maintain a safe learning environment.
      • They have all those policies, plus decades more with all the reporting requirements that they do on their own while also trying to maintain a safe school culture.
      • Principals were able to work collaboratively on school improvement with the other adults in the system.
      • They are only one mis-step away from a grievance, administrative leave, a no confidence vote, and/or a student walk-out.
      • Principals were funded based on an FTE (student count) ratio.
      • Oops, that same unchanged, outdated, and inequitable ratio still exists and is still driving the definition and unrealistic nature of leadership in our schools.
      The evidence is clear. The role and expectations of school principals and assistant principals has exponentially increased, but not the support. The “system” has only dumped more and more on the plates of principals under the assumption that our leaders will just keep rolling up their sleeves to do the work, which they have. But, it has to stop. They can’t maintain this pace. We all need to stop and say “enough is enough” before we enter into a very real leadership crisis in which no one will be willing to step in to lead our schools. Without effective and consistent leadership, our students will suffer. AWSP is saying “enough is enough.” We cannot continue this trend. There is ample research out there indicating the power and influence an effective principal has in establishing school culture, building the systems to sustain that culture, and the impact on increased learning for everyone. If the research is so clear then why isn’t there urgency to correct this problem? Our students and teachers will suffer the greatest consequences unless we all collectively address the plight of our current and future school leaders. If we are worried about growing, supporting, and sustaining our school leaders then we need to address not just the compensation gap, but also the reasons principals or future principals are considering entering and/or leaving the profession. At AWSP, we are bringing light to this leadership crisis while also offering solutions that will benefit the entire system. What are those solutions? How about the 3 Ps: Pressure, Protection and Pathways.
      • Principal Pressures (workload, expectations, work-life balance, responsibilities, etc.) What can we collectively do to address the unrealistic workload and expectations placed on principals?
      • Principal Protections (contract support, job security, due process rights, legal protection, pay and compensation, etc.) What can we do as a system to uniformly better protect our leaders, so they can lead?
      • Principal Pathways (increased funding for internships, principal preparation alignment, multi-year mentorships, first year cohort/networking support, increased regional support, access to professional learning, etc.) How can we break down the silos of principal support in order to build a robust systems-approach to growing, supporting, and sustaining our school leaders?
      As an example of just one of the ways AWSP is advocating for change is through our recently published principal compensation recommendations to a state level committee entrusted with examining the pay structures of the public school system. Although AWSP didn’t have a seat on the workgroup, we didn’t waste an opportunity to educate this panel on the realities of the principalship. AWSP is in the fight, but we can’t do it alone. If we can all rally around these three big areas, then perhaps we can bring balance back into the role of the principalship. Perhaps we can encourage our amazing leaders to not just survive their roles, but thrive. Perhaps we can change the minds of those considering leaving the profession to instead make a long term commitment. Perhaps we can shift what is currently a nearly impossible job into a more realistic and impactful leadership role. Perhaps instead of our students and teachers getting to know a new principal every year they can count on having the same leader relationship throughout their school experience. Leadership matters. It has always mattered. As we climb out of the negative and long-term impacts of the pandemic, leadership will matter like never before. Working together, we must take steps to drastically improve the support of our leaders as they guide us forward and into the future. Our kids are counting on it.
      Dr. Scott Seaman joined AWSP in the fall of 2013 after serving as the principal at Tumwater High School. In July 2018, he assumed duties as Executive Director.