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Characteristics and Career Paths of North Carolina School Leaders

by Jessica Folsom and La'Tara Osborne-Lampkin

Researchers have linked positive student outcomes, including student achievement, to high-quality school leadership. Due in part to this research, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals' Association are interested in increasing the number of high-quality principals in North Carolina's educator workforce, particularly those leading rural schools. To support these efforts, the two groups and Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast collaborated on this study of North Carolina assistant principals and principals (referred to here as "school leaders"). North Carolina stakeholders requested information on the state's school leader workforce, including a description of the backgrounds and experiences of leaders in nonrural and rural schools. Attracting and retaining educators in rural areas--where school districts receive fewer applicants and have higher staff turnover rates--have become pervasive issues, both nationally and in the REL Southeast Region. This report describes the demographics, educational attainment, licenses, and career paths of North Carolina school leaders from 2001/02 through 2012/13. The career path analysis focuses on retention and recruitment, two areas of particular interest to North Carolina stakeholders. The retention analysis describes the top-10 paths that assistant principals and principals took, beginning with their initial appointment as a school leader and over the next 10 years. The recruitment analysis describes the top-10 paths for assistant principals and principals during the 10 years before they took on their leadership roles. The analysis of demographics, educational attainment, and licenses of North Carolina school leaders from 2001/02 through 2012/13 showed that: (1) Women constituted a majority of school leaders, rising from 52-58 percent in 2001/02 to 58-63 percent in 2012/13; (2) The racial/ethnic makeup of school principals remained steady, with about 75 percent of them White; (3) Master's degree was the most common highest level of educational attainment, rising from 80 percent in 2001/02 to 87 percent in 2012/13 for assistant principals and from 64 percent to 78 percent for principals; (4) As many as 29 percent of principals held a superintendent license, but the rate declined over the study period; and (5) Leaders in rural schools were generally similar to leaders in nonrural schools in demographics, educational attainment, and licenses. The analysis of the career paths of school leaders found that: (1) A majority of individuals who were school leaders at the beginning of the time-frame were not school leaders at the end, generally having moved into other positions or having left the system; (2) A majority of assistant principals and principals spent time as a classroom teacher before becoming a school leader; and (3) There were no notable differences in the retention and recruitment paths of nonrural and rural school leaders before and after their leadership positions. North Carolina stakeholders might consider findings from this study as they engage in discussions around enhancing the principal pool and the quality of school leaders. The following are appended: (1) Key terms; (2) Data and methods; and (3) Findings comparing school leaders in nonrural and rural schools.

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Publication Information

Southeast | Publication Type: Descriptive Study | Publication
Date: January 2017

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