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The Problem of Principal Turnover

50 percent of principals quit during their third year on the job

As key leaders in school districts, principals are pivotal in providing guidance to faculty, staff and students; however, because a principal's job is often demanding and difficult, turnover is an ongoing problem, and schools are left facing the consequences when principals leave.

A school's long-term success depends on its ability to retain good principals. Principals set the tone and shape the cultural climate of the schools they lead. Tasked with morphing from instructional leader, talent manager, and disciplinarian into cheerleader, community leader and -- occasionally -- therapist, a school principal often has no choice but to multitask.

A 2012 report states that New York City charter schools have a tough time retaining principals, with nearly one in five leaving yearly.

9 States with the Highest Turnover

According to a 2014 report published by the School Leaders Network, the following states rank lowest for principal retention, with school principal tenures averaging 2.7 to 3.5 years:

  • North Carolina.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Alaska.
  • California.
  • Oregon.
  • New Mexico.
  • Delaware.
  • Nevada.
  • Idaho.

How Turnover Affects Schools

The School Leaders Network report states that a high-performing principal takes an average of five years to establish and implement a vision to improve school performance. However, half of principals quit during their third year, leaving schools to start over with unfinished implementation and a new leader either picking up a predecessor's pieces or starting over with a different vision. Based on conservative estimates, it costs approximately $75,000 to develop, hire and train a principal, and schools receive a poor return on their investment when principals leave too soon.

The report further states that a "leader's effect on students contributes to 25 percent of the total school influences on a child's academic performance." When principals leave, therefore, student performance suffers overall. It takes a tenacious leader in a long-term capacity to set and implement a vision for school improvement.

The retention problem is greatest in high-poverty schools: new, inexperienced leaders often replace the 27 percent of principals who leave each year. More affluent schools experience a 20 percent turnover rate. Charter schools experience the highest attrition with 29 percent of principals leaving each year.

How to Reduce Turnover

The following measures can help reverse principal turnover: continued investment in principal leadership development, peer network engagement, one-to-one coaching support and the revision of principal supervisors' roles. With improved principal retention, students are better prepared and school performance improves overall.

Certified teachers intent on leadership positions can invest in their own development by gaining the necessary knowledge and skills through an online Master of Education in Educational Leadership program. The curriculum at Louisiana State University Shreveport (LSUS) covers key aspects of educational leadership, including site-based school management, finance and staffing.

A master's degree in educational leadership can prepare you for principalship, a demanding but rewarding career for those who stay the course to help schools implement and benefit from positive transformation.

Learn more about LSU Shreveport's M.Ed. in Educational Leadership online.


New York City Charter School Center: The State of the NYC Charter School Sector

School Leaders Network: Churn -- The High Cost of Principal Turnover

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