Helping New Principals With the Basics by SUSAN STRATTON

Principals new to their jobs, whether new to the field or new to a district, believe they have the required skills and dispositions for the job, but what many of them lack is information specific to their jobs.

Principals report that induction into their new posts typically consists of a short meeting with the personnel director and/or the business manager. A lucky few are paired with a mentor principal or central-office administrator and some are encouraged to “call if you need something.” Most, however, are left on their own to discover what they need to know to be effective.

This process is inefficient and time consuming. It produces anxiety and frustration in new principals and all those who depend on their leadership.

As superintendents, you have an essential role to change the new principals’ experience by providing critical information that typically isn’t offered to them until they seek it out. Some of these suggestions may seem simple or obvious, yet they are based on what principals have reported as their unmet needs for a good beginning.

Compiling Resources
All of the basic information outlined here already exists in your district, but it probably cannot be found in one central location where principals and others can access it easily. Gathering this information and having it in the new principal’s office before she or he arrives will save everyone time and energy and allow a more rapid and complete transition of leadership.

* A school year calendar with notations of important events and experiences. Being able to plan ahead for school photo day or traditional field trips or professional days is necessary for the principal’s success. The principal also needs to know the dates, times and locations of various meetings she or he is expected to attend such as district functions, PTA events and community groups.

* A district directory and flow chart complete with names, phone numbers and addresses, especially noting those persons with whom the principal will need to have direct interaction.

* Introductions to people the principal needs to know both at the building and district levels. Depending on the size and structure of your district, these may include building and district secretaries and maintenance staff, the district business manager, the district curriculum director, local teacher union officials, the PTA president and significant community leaders.

Manuals and Protocols
* An up-to-date district policy manual indicating any hot topics or special issues the principal may want to study immediately. Knowing the reasons why the new principal needs specific knowledge will assist in formulating effective responses to issues and concerns.

* Curriculum policies, procedures and manuals used in the district. Because the principal is the instructional leader in the building, she or he must have complete knowledge of curriculum and best practices in teaching and learning as they exist in the district.

* District procedures manual for managing human, fiscal and property resources. To assist the principal, provide all district personnel handbooks and the necessary information, including forms, from the business and operations offices.

* Information about school bus routes, policies and discipline procedures.

Staffing and Plans
* A list of district employees who work in the school and what their roles and responsibilities are. The principal should know what structures exist in the building for providing and receiving information, for making decisions and for evaluating job performance. Who in the building can be depended on for accurate information and assistance? Some new principals may want to know who the troublemakers are.

* Building and district crisis plans should be on the principal’s desk on opening day. With the current emphasis on school safety, these plans become especially important to the new administrator who must be prepared for whatever might happen on the first day of school and thereafter.

* Current school improvement plans or goals. Knowledge of school district plans allows the principal to focus on school improvements quickly and move ahead to meet those goals with little time lost to transitioning of leaders.

* Building and district plans for evaluation and assessment of programs, student achievement and professional growth for personnel. The new principal needs to know from the beginning what accountability systems are used by the district. This information allows her immediately to use time and resources efficiently and effectively.

Susan Stratton is an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership in Educational and Sport Organizations, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail: