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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2022-23
How does Senate Bill 5175 Help “Grow, Support, and Sustain” School Leaders?
Roz Thompson
Government Relations and Advocacy Director, AWSP
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Planning with Data, Managing Resources
I just put the finishing touches on my final legislative update for the 2023 legislative session. This was the sixth legislative session for which I had the honor of representing over 3,600 AWSP members as their voice at the Capitol, and it was the first time for me that so much of the conversation focused on the role of principals and assistant principals. Many people share support for the work that principals and assistant principals do. One bill focused on principals made it through the Legislature, but we have much more work ahead to create a system that better supports building leaders.
At AWSP, our priorities are to “Grow, Support, and Sustain” principals and assistant principals. Our board created the following statements, and the work we do as an association is solely focused on these three things:
GROW: Partner with other organizations to identify, recruit, and develop future school leaders with a focus on underrepresented groups.
SUPPORT: Support and equip all school leaders with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to foster positive school culture, build equitable systems, and lead learning in their respective school contexts and communities.
SUSTAIN: Support all principals in their capacity to be effective long-term leaders, specifically in highly impacted schools where strong and consistent leadership is needed most.
One bill focused on principals made it through the Legislature, but we have much more work ahead to create a system that better supports building leaders.
Our legislative platform begins with this statement: We are in a leadership crisis. Principal workload, increasingly unrealistic expectations, and job vulnerability are impacting current administrators’ willingness to stay and causing prospective administrators to choose other career paths. Research from the Wallace Foundation shows that “it is difficult to envision a higher return on investment in K-12 education than the cultivation of high-quality school leadership.”
We asked that our state “unite to respond to the education workforce crisis through a holistic and multi-faceted approach addressing current policies, legislation, and funding so that we can attract and retain highly effective educators, including principals and assistant principals.” By this, we mean that we need a collective approach to strengthening the education profession from our elected officials and our partners at state agencies, in higher education, and in school districts.
Specifically, we wanted the Legislature to focus on these things:
  • Fix the pay gap for assistant principals and principals in administrator salary allocation.
  • Update the prototypical school funding model ratios for principals in order to meet student and staff needs.
  • Prepare and support new assistant principals and principals by increasing funding for administrative internships and mentorship programs.
  • Provide better job protections for assistant principals and principals by creating better terms of employment. (SB 5085 did not pass but it would have addressed working conditions, employment applications, added protections for assistant principals, allowed all years of education experience to count, and added some training in the evaluation process.)
While we had many conversations about each of these pieces, the Legislature did not take specific steps to support these requests. A caveat to this statement is related to educator salaries. We greatly appreciate inflationary increases to all state-funded K-12 positions through SB 5650 and we hope our local districts will address the pay gap for assistant principals and principals in their local collective bargaining agreements and salary schedules.
The bill that did pass this session that is solely focused on principals is Engrossed Senate Bill 5175 titled “Concerning written contracts between school boards and principals”. This bill is an option that districts can use to extend principal contracts for up to three years. Sen. Lisa Wellman, D–Mercer Island, chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was the prime sponsor for this bill, and she introduced it in early January.
This bill extends the maximum term of a written contract between a school district board of directors and a principal from one to three years. A contract for a duration of more than one year may be offered if the principal has:
  • Been employed as a principal for three or more consecutive years;
  • Been recommended by the superintendent as a candidate for a two or three-year contract because the principal has demonstrated the ability to stabilize instructional practices,
  • Received a comprehensive performance rating of level 3 or above in their most recent comprehensive performance evaluation, and
  • Met the school district's requirements for satisfying an updated record check. A contract between a board of directors and a principal for a term of three years may not be renewed before the final year of the contract.
Why are longer contracts important?
  • It is an opportunity to maintain consistent leadership in school buildings.
  • It is an option that districts may choose to use to recruit and retain leaders, especially for hard-to-fill high school positions.
  • Dismantling bad-for-student systems and working to make deep, systemic change takes time and consistent, effective leadership.
  • Principals deserve greater job security due to the complex nature of their jobs and the years of experience required to become a highly effective and impactful school leader.
Will longer contracts help alleviate principal workload and improve working conditions? Nope. So, just how does SB 5175 support our priorities to “Grow, Support, and Sustain” school leaders?
As this bill made its way from the Senate to the House, we worked with Rep. Monica Stonier, D–Vancouver, on ideas that would help set the context for when longer contracts may be offered to principals. We believe that the conditions the Legislature included in the final bill make sense and point to very important pieces of leadership development. We believe that it is appropriate to give longer contracts to principals who have had at least three years of experience, who have received proficient scores in the evaluation process, and who create conditions in schools that support strong instructional practices.
Because this bill references each of those pieces, we hope that the conversations that take place at the district level about when an extended contract may be offered will focus on the systems that support principal growth. We have resources that can help with these conversations that may now occur between administrative teams as they potentially take the step of offering some principals these extended contracts.
How can district administrators use the AWSP Leadership Framework or the School Leader Paradigm documents as resources to support conversations and actions related to principal contracts, professional growth, and evaluation? What else does our system need to put in place to support leaders?
We know that we need to do more work to explain just how important robust internship experiences and mentoring programs are to new building leaders. A very modest investment by the Legislature in these programs for principals will have a tremendous impact on teacher and student success. Additional professional development opportunities and a meaningful evaluation process focused on growth will also help support and sustain our leaders. We must continue these conversations with all of our partners–legislators, higher education, state agencies, and district administrators.
As Dr. Scott Seaman writes, “The answers don’t solely exist in SB 5175, but this is a simple place to start. If we say we are student-centered and equity-focused, then shouldn’t we be striving to keep our best school leaders so they can lead the much-needed changes our students deserve? This bill is about hope. This bill is about protecting, reaffirming, and encouraging our best and brightest to not only remain in their roles, but to continue being agents of change and hope in their schools.”
This bill is an opportunity to connect policy with professional learning. And, it’s an opportunity to talk about good contracts for principals. We have already begun conversations with our colleagues at WASA about the implications of this bill, and we look forward to partnering with them and others as we move forward to think about ways to better support all school leaders in their work.