NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Back to results
ERIC Number: ED533122
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 44
Abstractor: ERIC
Turnaround High School Principals: Recruit, Prepare and Empower Leaders of Change.
Schmidt-Davis, Jon; Bottoms, Gene
Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)
Recent studies make one reality clear: While multiple factors can cause a low-performing high school to be in a turnaround situation, every high school that makes dramatic academic improvement has strong, effective school leadership. Turning a school around is no work for novices. It takes a skilled, visionary and proactive principal to pull apart the strands of demoralization, low expectations, poor teaching and unengaged students and rebuild a coherent, learning-centered school. This report examines how to find and prepare these principals. This report is based on the Southern Regional Education Board's (SREB's) extensive review of literature pertaining to school leadership and high school turnarounds and on a round of interviews with successful high school principals. SREB also convened a meeting of experts in Atlanta that included a successful high school turnaround principal, a successful urban superintendent, a school board member from a large urban district, district leaders with experience in school leadership issues, university faculty members, directors of school leadership academies, and leaders in SREB's "High Schools That Work" ("HSTW") school improvement network. Participants came from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas and Tennessee, and they contributed extensive firsthand knowledge relating to this work. The group identified several key recommendations: (1) Break the cycle of treating the lowest-performing schools as dumping grounds for dysfunctional school leaders and teachers; (2) Assign the most experienced, best prepared and most successful principals to turn around the most challenged schools, instead of first-time principals or principals without a track record of success; (3) Look for courage as a key trait when selecting a turnaround leader; (4) Do not expect a turnaround leader to be perfect, and do not expect a person who avoids offending anyone to be able to turn a school around; (5) Use a set of screening tools to ensure that future leaders have the beliefs necessary to lead school improvement and do not have flaws in their character that will cause them to fail under the spotlight and pressure of school leadership; (6) Give turnaround principals authority to make key decisions, especially over personnel, school organization and schedule, and understand that they will have to take risks; and (7) Support turnaround principals wholeheartedly, with both the resources and the moral backing of district and state organizations. To help education leaders plan next steps, this report examines seven questions: (1) What are the problems facing turnaround high school principals?; (2) How are high schools different from elementary or middle grades schools, and how does that impact leadership?; (3) How do principals improve teaching and learning, particularly in low-performing high schools?; (4) What skills, traits, beliefs and experiences should turnaround principals have?; (5) What training do future principals need to enable them to succeed under difficult circumstances?; (6) What support do turnaround principals need?; and (7) What district and state policies are needed to dramatically improve leadership in turnaround high schools? (Contains 1 exhibit, 3 tables and 101 endnotes.)
Southern Regional Education Board. 592 10th Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318-5790. Tel: 404-875-9211; Fax: 404-872-1477; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: High Schools; Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Wallace Foundation
Authoring Institution: Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), High Schools That Work (HSTW)