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Principal Knows Best: Empowered Leaders Drive Student Success

At A for Arizona, we spend a lot of time on the road visiting Arizona’s best low-income 'A' grade public schools, both traditional district and charter. Our primary goal is to expand the number of ‘A’ seats available to Arizona students, particularly those in low-income communities. We do this by finding out what makes excellent schools successful, and then we support their efforts to expand, replicate, or share their practices and models with others. In short, we invest in what works and encourage Arizona business and policy leaders to do the same.

While each ‘A’ school we visit is unique in its own way, all possess one common ingredient: strong, visionary leadership that is committed to excellence for each and every student. These proven leaders are made even more effective when they are empowered to make decisions on issues ranging from hiring and firing, choosing curriculum, and budgeting – and financial platforms like Balance from Allovue, will be invaluable in helping them make these decisions with confidence.   The more we meet with Arizona’s ‘A’ leaders, particularly those in low-income areas, the more inspired we are by how they are beating the odds and closing the Achievement Gap all across our state – proving it really is possible to offer an ‘A’ education to every student. A for Arizona is shining a spotlight on these exceptional school leaders, and policy makers are taking notice. As a result, they look more and more toward our successful school leaders when crafting policy solutions, working to remove any obstacle that stands in the way of their drive toward achievement. By embracing the notion that, in the case of high performing schools, ”the principal knows best,” lawmakers are following the lead of Arizona’s best school leaders.  

Autonomy in Hiring, Learning and Resource Allocation

There are several ways we’re looking to follow these leaders in Arizona. One policy that’s making its way through our legislature is to alter teacher certification so the process honors the way our highest performing school leaders attract the best candidates to their schools. A groundswell of Arizona school leaders have called for the ability to hire the best candidates, whether those individuals come to them with state certification or through a less traditional path.   With the aid of strong bipartisan support, our governor enthusiastically signed legislation giving school leaders choice among end-of-year assessments. This allows individual schools to utilize a nationally benchmarked exam that matches their chosen curriculum, such as Cambridge International Examinations, Advanced Placement™, or International Baccalaureate programs. This is a more rigorous option that will result in our students being truly college-ready and career-ready. Instead of expending additional time, money, and energy preparing students for a duplicative exam, assessment choice that is aligned to a school’s curriculum frees up instructional time while still keeping schools accountable to the community for their performance results.   Our leaders also seek student-based budgeting, which puts school principals in the driver’s seat and allows them to make key decisions for resource allocation, based on needs that principals know better than anyone. This year’s reauthorization of federal education law calls for school-level transparency and is the perfect opportunity to empower effective principals.

Arizona’s schools are on the rise, improving at one of the fastest rates in the country. We are closing the Achievement Gap and making strides where others say it is impossible. Much of this success is due to our focus on allowing great school leaders to expand the number of students they serve. Our ‘A’ leaders are showing us what’s possible, and we must empower their continued success and invest in the tools and training necessary to replicate their best practices.  

About the Author

Image of Emily Anne Gullickson   Emily Anne Gullickson, J.D., M.Ed., is the Program Director of A for Arizona, a project of the Arizona Chamber Foundation and Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She also teaches as a Faculty Associate at Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

March 31, 2016