Guest Blog: Using 'Fit' as an Attribute to Select Principals

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This guest blog post comes from AASA member Brandon Palmer, Vice Principal of Little Rock High School in Littlerock, CA.

Although the school principal’s role has been growing in importance, the methods used to select principals have changed little since the 1950s. Moreover, researchers have seldom scrutinized principal selection methods; yet, significant procedural issues exist. The concept of fit has been used within principal selection for decades, but researchers appear to disagree on whether fit is an effective criterion and whether its use may foster discrimination. This primarily qualitative study explored the perceptions and practices of top-level district administrators regarding the use of fit within principal selection processes through a conceptual framework of cloning cultures which raise significant equity issues for non-Caucasian selection participants. Results of this study indicate participants define fit both similarly and differently, they believe fit is an important attribute sought in selection, using fit within selection has both advantages and disadvantages, and selecting principals based on fit does not guarantee that a principal will fit the school and district community. Therefore, the concept of fit should be clearly defined and operationalized. In addition, objective assessment criteria should be developed if fit is to be used within principal selection processes to promote equality within selection practices.

In a recent study published in the 2016 CLEARvoz Journal (Center for Leadership and Equity Research), top-level school district leaders were asked a variety of questions concerning their use of “fit” as an attribute to select school principals.  “Fit” is considered to be of great importance to top-level school leaders when selecting school principals.  Interestingly, principal selection researchers disagree on its use.  Despite its perceived importance, researchers have also described “fit” as a means to exclude on the basis of race, gender, or other factors real or imagined.  

Results of this study indicated top-level school district leaders described “fit” in one of three ways: 1) some type of congruence between the principal and school-community, 2) specific character traits, or 3) a candidate’s understanding of the school-community.  While most top-level school district leaders deemed “fit” as important or very important, they also admitted the difficulty in ascertaining “fit” during selection.  

The use of “fit” was cautioned in favor of other attributes such as raising student achievement.  However, if “fit” is to be used, the specific traits that make-up “fit” should be assessed such as knowledge of curriculum and instruction or the ability to build relationships.  It was also suggested the use of “fit” may undermine equity concerns and that more objective methods should be used instead of solely relying on intuition to match school principals with the school-community.

The full research article can be accessed here:  http://journals.sfu.ca/cvj/index.php/cvj/article/view/22/27 


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