For the last four years, a public-private partnership has worked to prepare Hamilton County's school leaders for the principal's office. But a new program unveiled this week will work to make sure those principals get more support once they're on the job.
After a year of planning, officials with the Hamilton County Department of Education, the Public Education Foundation, the McKenzie Foundation and Unum announced their five-year effort, dubbed "Leadership Pipeline," to provide support for school leaders throughout their careers, particularly in their first, second and third years on the job.
Superintendent Rick Smith has continually highlighted the important role principals play in the school system. But he said the need for more support is especially pressing this school year, when 25 of the district's 75 principals are in their first or second year on the job.
"Think about that: Fully one-third of our school leaders are in their first or second year," the superintendent said.
The Public Education Foundation has hired 16 retired principals to coach new leaders. Those retirees will mentor first- and second-year principals, providing advice, problem-solving help and other support. In the third year, principals will be paired with sitting principals. Beyond that, principals will join one of four local networks for school leaders.
The program comes at a time when principals are called upon to be more than just building managers and disciplinarians. Principals are responsible for teacher evaluations, driving improvements in student achievement and closing achievement gaps. Smith said that means they need to step more away from management problems -- like maintenance, logistics and parent concerns -- that often arise, especially during the school day.
"We need to narrowly focus what it is we want principals to do," Smith said.
Of course, that's easier said than done. It's hard for any principal, especially new principals, to avoid the continual distractions that pop up.
"That balance is still a work in progress," said Gail Huffstutler, the first-year principal at East Ridge Elementary. "It means I need to be in the classrooms."
The leadership pipeline effort so far has gained nearly $1 million in funding, with a total of $2 million in pledges.
To build community interest, PEF purchased billboard space in anticipation of this week's news conference. PEF President Dan Challener said the support of companies, individuals and nonprofit organizations make it "the kind of public-private partnership that is a hallmark of Chattanooga."
"It is what we do as well as any community in the nation," he said. "And it's pretty ironic, I was thinking as I drove out today, that we're celebrating our ability to work together on the very day that our federal government is closed down because they can't."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249.