July 28, 2008

Schools Grooming New Administrators

By Janese Heavin, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

Jul. 28--Columbia Public Schools are growing their own crop of future administrators in an effort to offset high attrition rates and buck national trends that show fewer people are interested in pursuing those careers.

"There is great competition for good administrators, and the supply is dwindling," Board of Education member Karla DeSpain said. "The jobs in administration are extremely demanding, both personally and professionally, and it is becoming more and more difficult to find people who want to do that."

Over the past couple of years, the district's central office has made leadership development a priority, said Mary Laffey, assistant superintendent of human resources. Officials are constantly on the lookout for teachers who show leadership qualities. "We're trying to build leadership capacity within," Laffey said. "For the past couple of years, we've been surveying teachers about being aspiring administrators. I've also asked current principals if they have teachers they believe are future potential administrators."

Last year, the district offered a semester-long weekly leadership class for teachers interested in administrative careers, funded by a $25,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation.

While grooming future administrators is an effective method, DeSpain said, she worries it still won't be enough to fill future vacancies within the district.

Laffey estimates that Columbia Public Schools have seen a nearly 60 percent turnover in administrative staff in the past six years. The trend continued this summer when six veteran principals retired, and she expects to see more veterans hang up their hats in coming years as they reach their 30-year anniversaries.

Thirty is the magic number because that's when public school educators can reap 80 percent of their salary in retirement. In other words, an administrator earning $100,000 can continue to work for that salary or can retire and still receive $80,000. Many administrators opt to draw retirement and find other, less stressful work, said Faye Peters, executive director of the Missouri Elementary School Principals' Association.

"Quality principals can find jobs outside of the classroom, and it's often refreshing," she said. Being a principal comes with "so many responsibilities. The time invested becomes so great that classroom teachers earning Career Ladder money are making more per hour. The night calls, complaints, parent expectations, lack of parental support sometimes and you get so impassioned for the children, too, that the burnout just becomes there."

National education groups have predicted that as many as half of all school administrators in the country will be eligible for retirement in the next decade, and the turnover rate for superintendents is even greater. The American Association of School Administrators predicted in 2006 that close to 40 percent of superintendents will retire by 2011. A follow-up report last month found there aren't enough candidates to fill those vacancies.

Columbia could feel the impact of that shortage as veterans in the central office near retirement age. Laffey and assistant superintendents Lynn Barnett, Jack Jensen and Wanda Brown will all have hit their 30-year anniversaries by 2011, and Superintendent Phyllis Chase already has logged more than 35 years in education.

Laffey said administrators are working to ensure that those retirements won't happen all at once. "From a human resources perspective, we like to provide for consistency and stability in running the school district," she said. "We want to take a staggered approach to when people might be phasing out. If everybody walked out on the same day, it would be devastating to the system."


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