Preparing Assistant Principals to be Successful Principals

January 15, 2020 • Cheryl Hoover

Preparing Assistant Principals to be Successful Principals

As principal retention rates decline, districts need to find ways to prepare new campus leaders and improve local retention rates.

According to Ed Fuller, PhD, of the University Council for Educational Administration at The University of Texas, principal stability is declining in Texas. Only 60 percent of principals will return to their school after three years, and just under 40 percent stay for five years. Some districts are addressing the decline by preparing assistant principals to move into campus leadership roles and providing better support to novice principals.

The role of the assistant principal

The position of the assistant principal accomplishes two main organizational purposes: to assist the principal with effective administration of the campus and to act as a training opportunity for future school principals.

Assistant principals spend much of their time on managerial functions (e.g., textbooks, resources, equipment, and schedules), student discipline, student attendance, and student activities. While these tasks are important, there are many other roles assistant principals need to experience to hone their skills. Some of these are:

  • Strategic planning
  • School leadership
  • Instructional leadership
  • Human resources management
  • Legal compliance
  • Budgets and financial resources
  • Partnerships with district administration and the school board
  • Communication and public relations with the school community

Expanding assistant principals’ roles to provide experience in leadership ensures better preparation for the principal position. Partnering with the principal and shadowing the principal are two ways assistant principals can gain leadership experiences.

Leadership training for assistant principals and new principals

Some districts are providing ongoing professional development for assistant principals and new principals. Arlington ISD’s Emerging Leaders Program, which began in 2014, is a research-based principal and assistant principal training program which includes a summer induction session, monthly in-person meetings, one-on-one coaching, and webinars to help develop school leaders. “It is designed to have potential campus leaders prepared and ready when turnover occurs,” said Steven Wurtz, the district’s chief academic officer who helped bring the program to Arlington ISD.

State-wide, select districts and principals are participating in leadership programs such as The Holdsworth Center and Raise Your Hand Texas­—Harvard Leadership Program. These programs are designed with the belief that 70 percent of a leader’s development occurs through job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others or coaching, and 10 percent from formal educational events.

District strategies to better prepare assistant principals for the principalship

Implementing a principal leadership program gives assistant principals opportunities to learn leadership and organization skills that they may not learn at the campus level. Central administration can help principals review the role of the assistant principal at each campus and identify leadership opportunities to assistant principals. The district can also provide assistant principals with coaching and mentoring programs to develop leadership skills.  

Human resources departments should evaluate campus leadership development efforts by collecting and analyzing metrics relating to the success and retention of principals. Identifying campuses that are successfully growing and promoting assistant principals and determining what they are doing will help improve efforts at other campuses.

Reevaluating the assistant principal hiring process is another important strategy. Ensuring the hiring process is meeting the needs of the district and not just a specific campus is vital. Districts should determine if they are attracting and hiring teachers and assistant principals with the personal leadership qualities of a future principal rather than hiring for the current opening.

Implementing a district leadership program can better prepare assistant principals for the next level as well as support new principals. Ensuring leadership skills as well as managerial skills are developed can increase the likelihood of principal success and retention.

Cheryl Hoover is a HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Cheryl an email at

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Tagged: Hiring, HR, "Professional development", Retention