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Think: The Plight Of The Principal

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One of every five new school principals leaves the job within two years. Thursday on Think, Krys Boyd talked to two former principals who are now at SMU about why burnout is so high.

Principals are essentially the CEOs of their schools.

The difference is that CEOs in the business world rely on managers along the corporate ladder below them.

School organization charts are pretty flat.

“I don’t know really any CEOs of corporations that would have the span of control that I had. I had 220 professional employees," says ex-principal Lee Alvoid. She's now chair of the Department of Education Policy and Leadership at SMU. Hiring the perfect principal, she says, is nearly impossible.

“Find one person that has the skill set to do all of the operations and management part of running a school, and to have the deep-level instructional expertise that you have to have to coach teachers to higher performance – it’s just becoming more unrealistic.”

Principals do get some help from assistant principals and department heads. Can’t they just delegate?

“Of course, they can," says Les Black, another former principal now at SMU. “But traditionally the span of control as just been this absolute authority over every aspect of what happens in a school building. So even when things are delegated to assistants underneath the principal, things have a way of making their way back to the principal.”

That’s why Alvoid and Black co-wrote a study recommending that schools hire two principals – one for operations and one for instruction.

Their report, “The Changing Role of the Principal,” was recently published by the Center for American Progress. Think re-airs Thursday at 10 p.m., or listen to the podcast.

Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.