Across the six districts implementing PPI, schools with newly placed principals outperformed comparison schools by more than 6 percentile points in reading and nearly 3 points in math.1
PPI principals were nearly 8 percentage points more likely to remain in their schools for at least three years than those in comparison schools.1
PGCPS used the new PPI hiring and school-matching process to place an average of 42 principals per year during the Wallace Foundation grant period from 2011-2016.1
- Student needs unmet in Prince George’s County: In 2011, Prince George’s County Public Schools, one of the nation’s 20 largest school districts, faced a series of significant academic and behavioral challenges. Between 2006-2011, many district schools regularly fell short of state targets in reading and math, with especially precipitous declines in middle school. In particular, the district’s most underserved students — special education students, English language learners, low-income students, and students of color — did not receive adequate supports and were more than 20 percentage points behind state targets. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of the district's 10,000 high school students had dropped out, a disproportionately high share of whom were Black.
- High churn among school leaders: Across Prince George’s County’s 208 schools, the district experienced high levels of turnover among school leaders. Prince George’s County has roughly 1,000 school and district administrators, along with 1,400 support staff members.
- A shallow school leadership pool: Recognizing the need for an urgent solution to its principal quality and turnover challenges, PGCPS leaders sought a new approach to training and recruiting school leaders. This need was underscored by the fact that despite annually conducting several rounds of principal hiring to fill vacant positions, few candidates met high-quality standards — even with hundreds of applicants.
- Recognizing leadership development as a key driver of student performance: In 2010, PGCPS Superintendent William Hite developed a position paper arguing that school leadership development was undervalued and required significant public investment for the district to better meet student needs. Dr. Hite, a teacher, a principal, and a central office administrator before taking a leadership role at PCPS, began cultivating internal support for increased investment in the school leadership pipeline.
- Launching PPI in partnership with the Wallace Foundation: In 2011, PGCPS received a 5-year, $12.5 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to join the Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI) along with five other districts. PPI is a program for districts to identify, hire, train, and evaluate principals. PPI participants include teachers, who use the program to connect to master’s courses and/or other specialized education credentials; assistant principals, who receive two years of intensive supplemental training while on the job; and principals, who participate in a mentorship program and receive ongoing coaching and evaluation from district-level supervisors.
- Creating rigorous standards to develop high-quality school leaders: To launch the program, PPI requires districts to create a set of standards and competencies that specify what makes for effective school leadership. Designed in close partnership with the National Institute for School Leadership, the PGCPS standards are deliberately rigorous and inform the training and evaluation components of PPI. PGCPS’s eight leadership standards include setting school-wide, measurable goals; implementing evidence-based pedagogical practices and curricula; and fostering a school culture that values creativity, innovation, and knowledge-sharing.
- Leadership training to meet diverse student needs: To ensure principals are prepared to meet district standards, PPI emphasizes preservice and on-the-job training. With school needs varying across the district, PGCPS partners with more than 20 universities and professional organizations to design and deliver specialized leadership training and credentials (such as STEM school leadership). PGCPS also partners with various professional organizations for career development programming, mentoring, and evaluation. These include monthly skill-building workshops; a selective assistant principal training program; and the Summer Leadership Institute, an annual two-day summit focused on data-driven school leadership.
- Standardizing the hiring process: Before implementing PPI, PGCPS used an informal and inconsistent principal hiring process, which relied primarily on a single interview and resulted in significant discrepancies in principal preparedness and quality. Using the PPI framework, all principal candidates now participate in a leadership assessment, in addition to a series of exercises designed to demonstrate proficiency in core responsibilities, such as evaluating teachers. All candidates are scored against the same rubric. Hired candidates are then placed in schools through a matching system that incorporates the candidate’s strengths and the school's needs.
- Implementing the Leader Tracking System: To manage their pipelines, PPI districts use the Leader Tracking System, a data management program. PGCPS uses the Leader Tracking System to match candidates with schools; track and support performance of leaders, teachers, and school communities; and automate time-intensive reports for grants and transparency requirements.
- Building a strong pipeline of school leaders: Over the 5-year grant period, PGCPS placed 247 principals in district schools — an average of 42 per year. This was especially significant given that before PPI implementation, PGCPS had no formal system for identifying, hiring, and placing principals in schools with vacancies. Broadly, student performance has improved in areas like reading and math, though significant variation remains between schools and population groups.
- Creating “excellent” matches between first-time principals and schools: During PPI’s first three years, PGCPS used the program’s Leader Tracking System and related tools to match 61 novice principals with schools. More than 60 percent of those first-time principals reported that they were “excellent” fits when considering their skills, experiences, and interests, along with the school’s needs. This successful matching — a consistent feature across all six PPI districts — likely played a role in the significant reduction of principal turnover.
- Informing national leadership standards: PGCPS’s leadership standards, the product of a rigorous process including partnerships with professional associations and educator input, are now used as a model for districts across the country. The standards are the foundation of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, which were published in 2015 and developed by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Keys to Success
- Investing in the Leader Tracking System: PGCPS transitioned from a paper roster of principals to a sophisticated digital management system. This transition enabled the district to collect and analyze data on school and principal performance. PGCPS then expanded the system in 2017, adding a clearinghouse of academic work from in-district principals and other staff who had published research while pursuing advanced degrees. By investing significant resources into the Leadership Tracking System, PGCPS could more effectively identify strong matches between principals and schools, connect in-district subject matter experts to principals in need of support (primarily through the clearinghouse), and clearly demonstrate PPI’s impact to district leaders and funders.
- Engaging with local universities and expert organizations: Given its physical proximity to numerous universities and Washington, D.C., where many educational professional associations are headquartered, PGCPS has created specialized partnerships with more than 20 organizations and institutions. For instance, McDaniel College provides leadership training for schools with a large number of English language learners, while the National Association of Elementary School Principals helped PGCPS stand up a mentorship program for new leaders. By engaging with a large number of partners, PGCPS could tailor its leader development programs to the needs of individual schools, better positioning leaders to succeed.
- Cultivating buy-in among key internal stakeholders: As part of its PPI implementation, PGCPS overhauled its process for training, hiring, and supporting school leaders. To successfully make such significant changes, district leaders proactively garnered feedback and support for the program from internal stakeholders, including current and aspiring principals; teachers, who themselves make up the bulk of the principal pipeline; and PGCPS leadership, particularly the CFO.
- District leadership changes upend new principal standards implementation: Just as the district completed its trial of a new standards-based evaluation system in 2012, PGCPS Superintendent Dr. William Hite left the district. Multiple leadership changes in the years that followed led to a more gradual implementation than was initially anticipated.
- Hesitant university partners: Despite sufficient funding from the Wallace Foundation, PGCPS initially struggled to find university partners willing to provide specialized school leadership training. After conducting research to determine the cause of this widespread hesitation, PGCPS leadership identified that, in the past, professors had struggled to develop consistent lines of communication with school administrators and had often been denied access to classrooms for research purposes. To address this, the district formalized its partner engagement processes, including assigning a dedicated point of contact to each partner and hosting quarterly convenings.
- Cultivating buy-in from teachers union: With such substantial changes to the pathway from teacher to school leader, the teachers union expressed significant concerns about the overhaul. To address this, PGCPS administrators worked closely with the union to explain the career development opportunities their members would be provided. Ultimately, PGCPS proceeded without vocal union support, though the district did secure an agreement with the union preventing legal action.
PGCPS faces school staff shortage, budget constraints
After the No Child Left Behind Act raises teacher certification standards, PGCPS increasingly struggles to hire qualified teachers. In response, the district finds short-term solutions (like sponsoring hundreds of H1-B temporary visas for foreign teachers) but is unable to build a robust, permanent pipeline to develop educators within the district.
Dr. William Hite named PGCPS superintendent
A former teacher and principal, Dr. Hite takes over PGCPS with an emphasis on strong and stable school leadership. He is hired in the wake of significant leadership challenges within the county: between 2003-2008, PGCPS had four different superintendents, while many individual schools experienced similar rates of senior leadership turnover.
Prince George’s County awarded $12.5-million grant from Wallace Foundation to launch PPI
PGCPS is one of six urban school districts awarded a portion of the Wallace Foundation’s $75-million grant to launch the Principal Pipeline Initiative. School districts in Denver, Gwinnett County (Atlanta area), Charlotte, Hillsborough County (Tampa), and New York City are also selected. In total, 2,460 schools across the country are in the designated pipeline districts.
PPI launches in PGCPS
Six months after receiving the Wallace Foundation grant, PGCPS formally launches its Principal Pipeline Initiative. District administrators begin recruiting aspiring school leaders into training and mentorship programs, hosting informational open houses for all district staff, and designing specialized curricula with university partners.
PGCPS launches Aspiring Leaders Program for Student Success
As PGCPS continues to build on the PPI approach, it adds a selective track for roughly 20 high-performing assistant principals with at least three years in the role. The 8-month program combines mentoring, shadowing, and cohort workshops, with the goal of placing participants in head principal jobs shortly thereafter.
Leadership transition slows implementation
Soon after new principal standards are implemented, PGCPS Superintendent Dr. William Hite leaves the district to become Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. Several superintendents lead PGCPS over the coming years, making for a more gradual implementation of the new school leadership standards, hiring processes, and professional development infrastructure.
Policy Studies Associates publishes first evaluation report
Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, Policy Studies Associates publishes a qualitative report on the first year of PPI implementation across the six participating districts. The report provides insight to policymakers on early successes and challenges around PPI, including highlighting the significant number of principal dismissals that occurred as the districts revamped their leadership standards.
PGCPS launches principal supervisor program
With its principal pipeline growing, PGCPS invests part of its grant funding in a new program to train current and former principals to serve as district-level principal supervisors. The training helps to expand PGCPS’s roster of principal supervisors, allowing each of them to shift their focus from basic compliance and operations to more robust instructional support and evaluation.
PGCPS sustains PPI, expands Leader Tracking System in the post-grant period
After reaching the end of the five-year grant period, PGCPS secures U.S. Department of Education ESSEA funding (primarily Title II-A) to sustain and expand PPI operations. This includes building a clearinghouse of academic research published by in-district staff, which principals now use to address problems of practice within their school communities.
RAND report shows strong PPI impact
As part of an independent evaluation, RAND publishes a report showing PPI’s positive impact on students and schools across the six implementing districts. Students improved significantly in reading and math; leadership turnover decreased; and all districts successfully implemented and scaled PPI within the 5-year grant period. The study also found that the approach is highly cost effective at $42 per student per year.
Confronting the problem
- Students and schools in need of strong leaders: Between 2006-2011, many PGCPS schools struggled with inconsistent leadership, including reaching state standards in reading and math. The impacted students were disproportionately students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities. As the district grappled with how to improve academic outcomes, it faced a related challenge: high turnover among school leaders, with few qualified applicants to replace them.
- Prioritizing school leadership: When Dr. William Hite took over the district in 2008, he sought to boost school performance through improved school leadership. In 2010, he published a white paper laying out the case for a significant investment in a comprehensive training and support program for future school leaders.
- Applying for the Principal Pipeline Initiative: With the district demonstrating strong interest in refining its approach toward school leadership development, the Wallace Foundation invited PGCPS, along with 25 other districts, to apply for its Principal Pipeline Initiative. PGCPS was one of six districts selected to pilot the approach.
Designing the strategy
- Building an internal pipeline of future principals: To build a strong bench of future principals, PGCPS overhauled its approach to hiring, training, and supporting principals. The approach includes setting rigorous, aspirational standards for all principals (as opposed to only setting minimum qualifications); providing specialized preservice training with external partners; supporting ongoing professional development and evaluation from in-district supervisors and coaches; and creating a robust data management system that allows for evidence-based decision making on everything from recruitment priorities to principal-school matching.
- Starting with leadership standards: To inform principal training and evaluation, PGCPS began its PPI implementation by drafting clear standards for effective school leadership. Designed in close consultation with the National Institute of School Leadership, PGCPS administrators secured district cabinet approval on eight leadership standards for all district principals. The standards include strong managerial and human resources competencies; a commitment to excellence, equity, innovation, and continuous improvement; and rigorous data analysis to set and track against school-wide academic and behavioral goals.
- A uniform hiring process: To address significant variation in principal quality across schools, PGCPS revamped its hiring process. This included a leadership assessment, during which candidates analyzed mock student data and provided feedback on a recorded classroom lesson. PGCPS also created new baseline requirements for novice principals, including: experience (3 years as an assistant principal); advanced school leadership credentials through an approved partner; a history of strong performance evaluations; and participation in the Aspiring Leaders Program for Student Success, which uses a cohort model to provide shadowing and mentorship opportunities for future principals.
- Specialized partnerships with universities and professional organizations: To increase engagement among potential principals with specific pedagogical interests while also better supporting school-specific needs, PGCPS created partnerships with more than 20 universities and national organizations to design and deliver customized leadership training. For instance, prior to the launch of PPI, the district struggled to support English language learners, who make up more than a fifth of all PGCPS students. To that end, PGCPS partnered with McDaniel College to design a leadership curriculum focused on cultivating a school environment that better met the needs of English language learners.
- Ongoing support and evaluation: To help school leaders apply academic training to the classroom, PGCPS launched several professional development programs, including required yearlong induction programs for both first-year assistant and head principals; summer workshops; and a selective training program for high-performing assistant principals. All new principals and assistant principals receive coaching and mentorship from full-time PGCPS supervisors, who are trained by experts from the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
- Managing the pipeline with the Leader Tracking System: To leverage the extensive collection of principal performance data and expertise, PGCPS invested heavily in its Leader Tracking System. The software system includes data on all candidates who express interest in school leadership (including teachers, assistant principals, and head principals). Among its many applications, the Leader Tracking System is used by PGCPS administrators for automated early warning systems on declining school performance, identifying staff recruitment priorities, and connecting schools with in-district experts who can provide rapid responses to pressing challenges.
Allocating the funding
- Launching the Principal Pipeline: PGCPS was awarded a 5-year, $12.5 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to implement PPI. The grant covered costs in four major areas: developing school leader standards, partnerships, refining the principal hiring process, and on-the-job support and evaluation. Across those categories, the costs of district personnel time make up nearly half of all PPI spending. Participating districts (excluding New York City) averaged $5.6 million in annual spending on PPI, or roughly $31,000 per principal ($42 per student).
- Ongoing principal support and evaluation: The largest cost category by a significant margin, providing continuous improvement support and evaluation to principals makes up nearly half of all PPI costs. This includes the principal mentorship program (delivered in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals), ad hoc professional development workshops, and supplies.
- Specialized leadership training delivered by partners: PGCPS has created customized curricula with more than 20 partners in the area. Across all PPI districts, university partnerships for preservice preparation averaged roughly $9,400 per principal ($13 per student) — 31 percent of all PPI costs.
- Reimagining the principal hiring process: Creating and refining a new hiring process makes up approximately 10 percent of annual PPI costs. Nearly half of the PPI districts’ costs in creating uniform hiring processes for principals go toward investments in data collection and analysis. In PGCPS, this investment went towards an automated software tool that recorded all aspects of the hiring journey, from a candidate’s experience to leadership assessment results.
- Partnering with experts to draft new leadership standards: PGCPS partnered with NISL to draft the leadership standards, commissioning the organization through a consulting agreement. Across all PPI districts, developing the standards costs roughly $290 per principal (less than $0.50 per student). This makes up just 1 percent of total PPI costs. More than 80 percent of these costs go toward personnel time.
- Administering the PPI approach through the Leader Tracking System: The final cost category, which includes all supporting activities that touch multiple components of the principal pipeline journey, make up 11 percent of total costs. This primarily takes the form of roughly $2,000 per principal on the Leader Tracking System.
- Sustaining operations after the grant period: Today, PGCPS primarily funds PPI operations through U.S. Department of Education Title II-A subgrants (administered through Maryland State Department of Education). In both FY2021 and FY2022, PGCPS used roughly $3.7 million in Title II-A funding for PPI — a small fraction of its $2.8 billion annual budget. PPI can be sustained through a range of ESSEA grants, along with some grant programs within the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).
Implementing the plan
- Setting standards for effective school leadership: Upon joining the Principal Pipeline Initiative, PGCPS’s first course of action was to draft new standards for all principals. To do so, PGCPS partnered with the National Institute for School Leadership. Draft standards were then shared for feedback with key leaders across the district before being reviewed and approved by the PGCPS cabinet.
- Cultivating buy-in from key stakeholders: As PGCPS developed its standards for effective school leadership, it also began a robust stakeholder engagement process with current school leaders, future school leaders (including assistant principals and teachers), the teachers union, and PGCPS senior administrators.
- Securing partnerships for preservice preparation: Once it set school leadership standards, PGCPS shifted its focus to preparing future principals to meet those standards. To do so, PGCPS secured partnerships with more than 20 universities, each of which could provide specialized training. Similarly, PGCPS partnered with several leading professional organizations to help develop the district’s internal professional development curricula and programming.
- Revamping the hiring process: Along with new training opportunities, PGCPS administrators also overhauled the district’s hiring process for principals. This included investing in Gallup tools to conduct professional strengths assessments and designing a multi-faceted leadership assessment process, with exercises like analyzing student performance data and conducting a real-time evaluation of a teacher leading a classroom.
- Promoting the program to potential participants: With PPI standards and partnerships in place, PGCPS began to publicize the approach to school staff during open houses. PGCPS leaders also began to actively recruit high-performing teachers into training programs. For instance, PGCPS launched five new leadership development programs, each tailored for educators at different stages in their career. This is anchored by the Aspiring Leaders Program for Student Success, for which PGCPS recruits 20 of its strongest assistant principals each year.
Measuring and refining the approach
- Demonstrating the value of PPI through independent evaluation: As part of the Wallace Foundation grant, the six PPI districts participated in rigorous, independent evaluations conducted by Policy Studies Associates and RAND. The Wallace Foundation maintains a resource library dedicated to PPI, which includes evaluations of the approach’s implementation and impact at numerous points since 2011. A 10-year impact evaluation is expected soon.
- Creating an expertise clearinghouse within the Leader Tracker System: Unique among the six PPI districts, PGCPS made significant strides in leveraging data management tools to improve its processes in placing principals and supporting schools. PGCPS replaced a paper system with an expanded version of the Leader Tracking System, which includes profiles for each school and principal, along with a clearinghouse of academic research conducted by PGCPS principals during their postgraduate work.
- Ensuring consistent and comprehensive community engagement in principal hiring process: For years, PGCPS had relied on public forums and parent committee interviews to inform the principal hiring process. However, as PGCPS sought to refine and standardize its hiring processes to align with PPI best practices, it replaced in-person screening with community surveys. Doing so allowed PGCPS to collect more comprehensive data to understand community sentiments toward candidates, and to ensure that community input was incorporated into hiring decisions the same way at each school.
- Providing all principals with iPads for data collection: As part of the district’s commitment to data-informed continuous improvement, each principal is now provided with an iPad. This allows school leaders to conduct evaluations and automate data collection processes in real time, reducing administrative burdens.
- Adding principal supervisor program: To continue building on the PPI approach’s initial success in building a strong bench of future school leaders, PGCPS added a principal supervisor development program. The program trains former PGCPS principals to serve as coaches to current ones. Launched in 2015, the “train-the-trainer” model ensures PGCPS has a high-quality group of coaches on staff to support and evaluate new principals.