Monday, December 17, 2018

Rural school principals have some of the hardest jobs, and some of the highest turnover rates, in education

"Rural school leaders have some of the most complex, multifaceted jobs in education. They also have some of the highest turnover. Half of all new principals quit their jobs within three years, according to a 2014 study," Caroline Preston reports for The Hechinger Report, an education journal. "A national survey released in July found that principals in rural school districts are even less likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to stay at their school the following year and more likely to leave the profession altogether. The schools they preside over, meanwhile, often struggle with persistent poverty, low college-going rates and extreme racial disparities in student outcomes."

It can be difficult to lure a new principal to a rural area unless they grew up in the area (or any rural area). And even when a new principal agrees to come on board, chronic shortages in other areas of education make the job even harder, Preston reports.

Cheraw, Colorado, is located in
Otero County (Wikipedia map)
For example, Matthew Snyder is the new principal of the elementary, middle and high schools in Cheraw, Colorado (pop. 252). He's also the district superintendent, the maintenance director, a substitute teacher, and soon will be a fill-in bus driver. He grew up in a farming town in northern Colorado and told Preston that, although he was daunted at the prospect of filling so many roles in Cheraw, his brother encouraged him to try it. The job turned out to be very hard, but Snyder said he hopes that's just because he's new. "The light at the end of the tunnel for me is I’m hoping this is just adjusting," he told Preston.

A nationwide initiative aims to help multitasking principals like Snyder. Mark Shellinger, a former dual superintendent-principal in rural Alaska, runs a group called the National SAM Innovation Project. It operates in Colorado and 22 other states "to help principals better plan their days and train colleagues to assume more of their schools’ management tasks," Preston reports.

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