A study published last year laid out in data what we’ve always known anecdotally: School leadership matters. It matters a lot.

According to the research report School Leaders Matter, highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single year, and ineffective principals harm student achievement to a similar degree.

Studies like this one published by Education Next perfectly illustrate why, for the last five years, the SCORE Steering Committee has chosen to make school leadership a statewide priority and why the committee devoted its April meeting to the topic. As we move forward, it is essential to remember three things that really help us focus on why school leadership is so important.

LeadershipSummit 5-2013First, the role of the principal has changed radically, moving principals away from pure administrative work to becoming the guiding force that truly drives instructional effectiveness in classrooms. Second, school leaders are often overlooked in the conversation about statewide educational success when, in fact, they are the ultimate source of support for teachers. Finally, we can be empowered by the potential of doing so much more to improve school leadership in Tennessee. The stability of leadership in our schools – only about 10% of principal positions turn over in a year — provides an incredible opportunity to create positive change for Tennessee students through school leaders.

So, where do we go from here? SCORE’s 2013-2014 State of Education in Tennessee report suggests some great starting points. Number one, we must commit to having high-quality principal preparation programs. Next, we must find better and more authentic ways to assess principal performance. Third, we need strong partnerships between school districts and the post secondary institutions or organizations that train principals. Finally, we need better information and data about school leader performance that draws a line from preparation programs to student achievement so we can collectively learn from the best programs to improve all programs statewide.

The challenge for preparing Tennessee students for the future and pushing for continuous improvement in our schools is too complex to only be tackled from one angle. Although Tennessee has made great strides in raising standards for students, improving the quality of instruction, and strategically changing how our state uses data to enhance learning, there remains great untapped potential to improve school leadership.

With the stakes as high as they are for our students and our state, please join me in encouraging even stronger school leadership in Tennessee by raising the profile of this conversation in your communities and with policymakers.

Jamie Signature 4-2014