The school will maintain small school format, but will switch from four principals to one lead administrator and three assistant principals

The Newberg School District announced Dec. 19 that Newberg High School will return to a single principal leadership structure, yet maintain its small school format, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza met with NHS staff Dec. 18 to announce the change, which will install one principal for the whole school along with three assistant principals. The athletic director position will not change.

“The current high school leadership structure does not support effective leadership, teaching or learning,” LeBlanc-Esparza said in a district release.
“This decision is not a reflection of performance of the leadership capabilities of the four principals, but a byproduct of the school structure.”

LeBlanc-Esparza said that when she took the position 18 months ago that the board tasked her with analyzing the school system to identify both strengths and areas for improvement.

Immediately she began to receive feedback about the high school structure from listening tour sessions with parents, students, staff and community members. Over time, it became clear to her, through such things as the NHS student climate survey, that people liked the small schools because they provide more personalized attention, instruction and relationships with teachers, increased student involvement and improved discipline and behavior.

She also cited research and her own past experience as reasons she believes that small schools are effective.

At the same time, she said the leadership structure caused confusion in the community and hindered learning, as teachers navigated various sets of rules laid down by different administrators.

Additionally, without one person to defer to for schoolwide organizational decisions, communications and operations, the system was redundant and inefficient. In times of crisis, when time was of the essence, group-decision making was too slow.

“Leaderships sets a tone, it sets vision, it helps people get where they’re going and it promotes collegiality and collaboration,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “When you have a system that’s four different microcosms operating, but they never quite operate all together for one common good, it just creates ambiguity and I don’t like that. I don’t believe that supports good teaching and learning.”

Even with the new leadership structure, LeBlanc-Esparza said she strongly believes the unique approaches and philosophies small schools allow for can be maintained and encouraged and that there is no one right way when it comes to learning and instruction.

Therefore, finding the balance between the overarching vision for the high school and allowing for the differentiation between small schools will be part of the challenge for the new position.

“We did it quite successfully where I came from,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “It can be done, but it takes a leader who understands what’s okay to be different and what really needs to be unifying.”

The principal job will be posted nationally in January and, according to the release, parents students and staff will be involved in the process. LeBlanc-Esparza said posting nationally will help the district hire the best leader it can get and that a rigorous selection process will insure that whoever is hired, be it one of the current principals or not, is the best candidate for the job.

A hire is expected in late March, but even if an outside candidate was chosen, LeBlanc-Esparza said that with retirements elsewhere and potential positions open at the district level, none of the current principals will lose their jobs. The new principal will take part in the placement of the three assistant principals in a structure where two will be responsible for leading two small schools apiece and the third will focus on teaching and learning.

“No one’s going to be displaced because, at the end of the day, no one is a performance issue. Not one of those people is a performance issue. They all are good leaders,” she said. “The structure in which they are operating is really inhibiting their ability to be effective.”

For the same reason, the current principals’ salaries will not be cut, but instead they will be given different responsibilities that warrant that compensation in different ways, but when new assistant principals are hired in the future, it will be at a lower pay rate, resulting in modest savings for the district.

LeBlanc-Esparza said that as the announcement is so fresh, she hasn’t gotten much feedback from NHS staff, but at the same time that no one reacted as if it would be “the most awful thing ever.”

Green School principal Karen Pugsley, for one, said transitions like this are just part of the job for educators.

“Part of education is being able to change to meet the needs of all of the stakeholders and we do that all the time,” Pugsley said. “We change in small incremental ways and we change in large ways. It all depends upon what we need to do in order to meet our students’ needs.”

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