TAMPA – Not all teachers want to become principals. For those who do, the path to their own school began when they were named an assistant principal. After several years, and a few breaks, they might be ready for the show.
But in Hillsborough County, the learning process never ends. Two years ago, the county created the position of principal coach, who mentors new principals, guiding them through the “pipeline” they will travel on their journey to qualify to be a principal.
Tricia McManus is the director of leadership development for Hillsborough schools and oversees the principal coaching program.
“It’s an extreme challenge to become a principal,” McManus said. “We develop principals but it takes time and effort.”
There are four steps to become a principal in Hillsborough. Step one is the Future Leaders Academy, a six-month program for aspiring assistant principals. There, McManus said, they are provided with the tools and training they need to become an assistant principal.
Step two is the AP Introduction Program. A new assistant principal enters a two-year program that introduces them to their new role while they attend four specific courses while being mentored by one of the coaches. The courses include instructional leadership, human capita management, organizational leadership and operational leadership.
Step three is the Preparing New Principals Program. After three years of successful work as an assistant principal, there is a two-year program where the assistant principal is paired with the principal coach for monthly coaching. Finally at the end of that period, an assistant principal must apply for an opening.
Still, even though the new principal might have the shiny nameplate and a new big office, there is still a two-year induction program with one of the seven principal coaches, including weekly coaching and professional development sessions.
McManus is a former principal at Twin Lakes and Just elementaries in Tampa and made it through the pipeline. She is now the director of the coaches.
“It’s a great program,” McManus said. “We think it works and we know our principals are ready when it is time.”
Odalys Pritchard is the coach in charge of District 2, which consists of Northwest Tampa. She has also been the coach of District 4, which is mostly the Carrollwood area. A former principal at Adams Middle School, she works with new principals and conducts sessions with new principals about once a month.
“A coach needs to have the capacity to help develop new principals,” Pritchard said. “It is all about professional development and helping them to take care of issues that come up from time to time. I had to do a lot of training for this and I still hear about new situations.”
Most new principals come from within the district, but out-of-state applicants can still apply for openings if they are qualified and, with enough experience, bypass the program. But according to Pritchard, the pipeline that Hillsborough uses is an advantage.
“The principals we hire have been through the path that has been created for their success,” Pritchard said. “They know what to do at each level. They know the area directors, the superintendent and we know that they meet all of our competency needs.”
Pritchard said the pipeline isn’t about criticizing new principals for possible mistakes.
“Our role as coaches is not to evaluate,” she said. “We are a support mechanism. We are there to help.’’