, Salem, MA

Local News

March 20, 2014

Salem may hike principal salaries

Higher pay sought to attract strong school leaders

SALEM — This is not your grandfather’s principal search.

The Salem School Department is looking for new principals for Collins Middle School, Bates Elementary and Nathaniel Bowditch, a K-8 school.

They want new principals, but not just anybody.

The advertisement went out nationally this winter under the headline “Turnaround Leadership Opportunities.”

That really tells the story. Salem is looking for leaders who want to turn around urban schools in what the state has designated a Level 4, under-performing district. Salem is looking for men or women who can step into a school system in the middle of a complex and challenging turnaround effort.

The definition of principal, it appears, has changed.

“It used to be that you had 20 to 30 years’ experience, you used to coach the football team, you were well-liked by most members of the community and were often seen at school events,” Salem Superintendent Stephen Russell said.

“Now, it’s about instructional leadership, knowledge of what makes good teachers, the ability to use data to guide the school forward. ... We’re in a much different environment these days.”

And, in Salem, the stakes are higher.

Not only is Bentley School facing a possible state takeover and undergoing a separate turnaround effort, but other schools are struggling. Enormous amounts of time and resources are being expended to turn the system around. Hiring good principals is a key piece of the puzzle — maybe the key piece.

“The research shows that the two key ingredients of any successful school are the quality of the teachers and the quality of the principal,” Russell said. “One leader can make all the difference in the world.”

Salem began this search last fall with parent and staff focus groups. The city hired the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass-Boston to guide the search, using its network of national contacts.

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