The Principal Pipeline Initiative

Program overview

  • The Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI) is a comprehensive approach for school districts to identify, train, and place principals. The PPI approach calls for districts to conduct a combination of changes to leadership hiring processes and to provide formal training to current and future school leaders.
  • Process changes include setting district-wide standards for all new principals (such as experience, certifications, and strong evaluations) and a revamped hiring and placement process (including a leadership assessment and a data-based matching program). Training includes graduate-level university coursework delivered by academic partners, followed by on-the-job coaching and evaluation from in-district principal supervisors.
  • PPI districts manage their pipelines of current and future school leaders through the Leader Tracking System, a data management tool that is designed to collect performance and evaluation data. The system has a wide range of applications: it is used to match new principals with open positions; to identify schools requiring early interventions for supplemental leadership support; to automate reports required by law and from grants; and to identify priorities for future hiring cycles.
  • The Principal Pipeline Initiative was implemented in six districts across the country through a 5-year, $75-million grant from the Wallace Foundation. The grant period ran from 2011-2016 in Prince George’s County Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Denver Public Schools, Gwinnett County Public Schools (Atlanta), Hillsborough County Public Schools (Tampa), and New York City Department of Education schools.

Evidence and impacts

  • Improved student performance in math (3 percentage points) and reading (6 percent) relative to comparison schools
  • Increased three-year principal retention by 8 percentage points
  • Improved new principal perceptions of hiring, evaluation, and support experiences

Best practices in implementation

  • Solicit input and cultivate buy-in among key external stakeholders, including existing school leaders (including principals and assistants), teachers (who make up the majority of the pipeline), and district administrators. Doing so can help build momentum for a larger pool of pipeline applicants and for ongoing public investment.
  • Identify and engage with external partners to deliver professional development coursework and training. Leverage nearby universities for specialized programming (such as fundraising for capital projects or school leadership for communities with a large number of English Language Learners) and professional organizations for support in developing new hiring processes (especially around setting standards for new school leaders).
  • Invest dollars, time, and staff into data management and analysis (primarily via the Leader Tracking System). The PPI Leader Tracking System facilitates principal-school matching, allows district leaders to measure principal and school success, and enables the district to better demonstrate the impact of PPI — a necessity for building a sustainable funding pipeline and for withstanding district leadership turnover.