James H. Stronge Evaluation from the Ground Up
In this era of accountability, we need
principal evaluation systems that focus on
the leadership qualities that really matter.
Ivividly remember Fred Shepherd, my principal at Gibson Elementary School so many years ago. Mr. Shepherd was a no-nonsense, tight-ship principal. You didn’t run in the hallways; you didn’t throw trash on the playgrounds; you did follow rules.
Much more recently, I got to know Lucia Sebestian, the
principal of James River Elementary School, where my wife,
Terri, taught. Dr. Sebestian’s attitude and view of education
seemed to permeate the school, which was warm, colorful,
and inviting. As an occasional visitor, I could see students’
handiwork prominently displayed and could almost smell the
coffee the moment I walked through the schoolhouse door.
In terms of leadership style, these two principals were as
different as night and day. But when I think about them,
what stands out are two similarities: Both of them demon-
strated every day that they cared about children and wanted
their students to be the best they could be, and both of them
emphasized talent. As a child, I knew I had great teachers in
every grade—in my core subjects as well as in art, library, and
music. It was like being taught by all-stars. And James River
Elementary was just the same: Students learned at high levels
because the principal insisted on hiring, supporting, and
keeping the best teachers she could find.
Do Principals Matter?
Research over many years has established that principal
quality matters. Hallinger and Heck (1996) and Robinson,
Lloyd, and Rowe (2008) assert that principals make the
greatest impact in their schools by influencing teacher quality
and by focusing on relationships. As Mendro (1998) stated,
“The quickest way to change the effectiveness of a school, for
better or worse, is to change the principal” (pp. 263–264).
Recruiting, hiring, developing, and keeping the best
teachers and principals are essential for school success. And
that leads us to principal evaluation: Unless we have effective
evaluation systems in place that accurately differentiate