Hiring Quality School Leaders: Challenges and Emerging Practices

Matthew A. Clifford

Choosing an effective school principal is one of the most significant decisions that a superintendent or school board can make, as new leadership can propel a district forward in meeting its goals. In this issue brief, AIR staff review the research and summarize the challenges facing school superintendents and hiring committees when identifying and selecting candidates. The paper also identifies emerging hiring practices.

The review found that schools often limit their recruitment to candidates in the local vicinity and make decisions without a clear understanding of the school’s specific needs. Hiring committees may also lack the resources, structure, and guidance needed to be as effective as possible and select the leader best matched to the needs of the school. Research finds that the roles and responsibilities of the selection committee should be clearly defined and the committee needs to explicitly state the expectations and criteria for the position. Often hiring committees do not tie selection criteria to state and district goals, disregard school district data, and do not consider national and state standards when identifying the criteria for strong candidates.

The AIR review found that districts are beginning to revise and standardize their principal hiring practices. Emerging practices include allowing sufficient time—often a year—to recruit, select, and transition a permanent replacement for a school principal, engaging the hiring committee in a review of the data and school and district goals to set priorities for the position, and being increasingly strategic about recruiting.