Higher pay for principals critical to keep NC schools moving forward

North Carolina has made giant strides forward in raising teacher pay, more so than any other state in the nation last year. Much remains to be accomplished in this area, and reaching the Southeast or national average is not good enough for a state known for its long-time commitment to public education. We aspire to be better than “average.”

However, we cannot wait until we have solved the teacher pay issue because we have a crisis in the principals’ and assistant principals’ positions today. These school leaders have received a 1.2 percent pay increase in the past eight years. Most have received longevity increases as promised, but no real pay increases.

Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina House have recognized this unfairness and inequity in their budget proposals. Even though the increases are small, they are a step in the right direction and hopefully will be increased even more next year as the economy continues to improve. In the interim, the North Carolina Senate is encouraged to support the modest pay increases.

Having an effective teacher in every classroom is both a necessity and a laudable goal. However, having effective principals and assistant principals in every school is even more important. Good principals attract and retain excellent teachers. The administrators set the tone for the entire school whether it is in the areas of teaching and learning, firm but fair discipline, accountability, technology, communication and parental involvement

When Gov. Jim Hunt, followed by Gov. Mike Easley, gave me the opportunity to chair the State Board of Education for 6.5 years, I visited all 115 school districts and 750 schools. I often remarked that while I was not very smart, I could be with a principal for fewer than 15 minutes and know what kind of school I was visiting.

Rigor and relevance

I also commented many years ago that I was weary of seeing so many of our best teachers leaving the classroom to become administrators, feeling that their talent and love of teaching should not be lost. Someone asked me, “Oh, so you think our most ineffective teachers should become principals and superintendents!”

North Carolina’s policymakers showed their understanding of the leadership roles of administrators last year when they established the “Transforming Principal Preparation” program, which is designed to dramatically increase the rigor and relevance of preparing principals.

It was recently announced that Harvard University’s Education Innovation Laboratory will study five North Carolina school systems to see whether the promise of higher pay will result in increased academic performance. What a novel idea! In other words, does higher pay result in stronger results? There are so many variables in a school, but I am confident the study can be done accurately. Moving away from paying educators based solely on longevity and advanced degrees is a welcome change that will emphasize outputs (results) instead of simply relying on traditional measures.

Titled “Incentivizing Principal Inputs,” the study hopes to determine the effectiveness of bonuses paid to schools’ highest paid personnel. Wake County will have 75 schools in the study and Johnston County 11.

The business-oriented BEST NC organization is at the forefront of the push for more effective training and competitive compensation for our state’s principals and assistant principals. The North Carolina Association of School Administrators, including superintendents, principals and assistant principals; the UNC General Administration; and others are working to improve the environment for administrators. Hopefully, McCrory and our legislators are listening and will act accordingly. I am confident they are hearing the message from business people about the importance of leadership in moving our public schools forward to meet the tremendous challenges they face on a daily basis.

Phil Kirk is Chairman Emeritus of the State Board of Education and a resident of Raleigh.