Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lost as many principals in 2011-12 as the previous two school years combined, a final tally released this week shows.
In a year marked by school closings and mergers, as well as a top-level leadership shuffle, CMS lost 35 principals to retirements, resignations, dismissals or promotion to non-principal jobs within the district. That compares with 21 in 2010-11 and 14 in 2009-10.
An additional 27 principals switched school assignments during the past year. In a district with 159 schools, that means 62 principals left CMS or switched jobs.
That poses a challenge for Heath Morrison, who became superintendent July 1, and for schools adjusting to new leadership.
I have seen the numbers, and it seems like a high degree of principal turnover, Morrison said Wednesday. My philosophy is to get the right principal in the right setting, and then let that person stay there. When theres a good fit, I want the principal to be there long enough to make a difference.
Like most educators, Morrison says principals are crucial to school success. As he crafts a long-range plan and tries to rebuild employee morale, he must weigh his desire to create stability with the need to make his own decisions about whether each school has the right leader.
The Observer has been seeking a full-year report on principal departures since the school year ended in June. A midyear tally the Observer requested in January showed the stream of departures and job changes was well under way.
Dozens of experienced, highly paid teachers also left the district in the past year, according to the Observers comparison of CMS payrolls from spring 2011 to spring 2012.
At the time, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh and Ann Clark, who is now Morrisons deputy superintendent, cited several possible explanations. Three years without raises had created frustration, they said, while the beginning of an economic recovery opened up better-paying options for educators willing to leave the profession.
For the 2012-13 school year, which began July 1, CMS had enough money to grant 3 percent across-the-board raises, with larger market-adjustment raises for several principals.
In addition, educators from the baby boomer generation are reaching retirement age. And both Hattabaugh and Clark acknowledged that school ratings based on test scores and graduation rates along with a recent push to use test scores to rate teacher effectiveness put additional stress on principals and teachers.
Louise Jones, who had been principal of Hopewell High since 2007, resigned in July to take a principal post with the Washington, D.C., school system. Five of CMS 18 large high schools Hopewell, Rocky River, Vance, West Charlotte and Independence no longer have the principals who opened the year in 2011-12.
I had been with CMS for 14 years and CMS has been good to me, Jones said Wednesday. Theyre very well-respected nationally.
But she says the push to improve numbers sometimes created pressure. Churn at the top levels Jones said she had five supervisors in five years and conflict over the CMS push for teacher performance pay also created stress, she said.
Jones said she started job-hunting after the January death of her friend Barry Bowe, principal at Northwest School of the Arts. CMS was investigating Bowes handling of security at a school dance, and he had been told his options included resignation, retirement or due process. As Northwest families rallied to save his job, police found Bowe dead in his home, apparently by his own hand.
Jones says she doesnt blame CMS for Bowes action, but she does blame the district for handling the investigation badly, and the fact that no one would take responsibility afterward. At the time, Hattabaugh declined to discuss specifics about the personnel investigation but said there had been no final determination on whether Bowe would lose his job.
If Morrison is serious about fixing the problems of CMS, he should contact recently departed principals, Jones said: I think he would probably get an earful.
Creating a respectful, positive district culture centered on teaching and learning is one of five goals Morrison listed in his entry plan this summer. He has hired a consultant to study the performance of the CMS human resources department. He is also holding a series of employee meetings, asking for advice on whats working and whats not. Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.