So Your School Needs a New Principal: The Worried Parent’s Guide

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Did your principal leave at the end of the year? Try not to worry as Bethany Erickson breaks down the selection process.

Have you ever wondered how a new principal is chosen in Dallas? Chances are, it’s a thing you never really thought about — until you had to.

Last week, Lakewood Elementary parents found out that their principal was not returning for the coming school year, and Lipscomb Elementary found out that Woodrow’s gain in Roxanne Cheek meant they, too, would be searching for a principal.

And just this week, Kramer Elementary found it, too, would be looking for a new principal after it was announced that Katie Eska had been tapped to be principal at North Dallas High School.

And earlier this summer both Cigarroa Elementary and Foster Elementary also had principal spots to fill as well.

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Parents at Lakewood Elementary found out last week that their school now needs a new principal

And if you’re like me, you had no clue how the district fills those principal spots until you got a letter announcing that your child’s principal was leaving. And if you’re like me, that fear of the unknown caused no amount of angst.

So for all you Kramer, Lakewood, Lipscomb and other parents out there wondering what this means for your school, let me give you this quick and dirty primer on principal selection in Dallas ISD — and what questions you should ask.

An email or letter may be the way you’ve discovered someone new will be steering the ship at your kid’s school. But even before that letter goes out, the executive director for the particular feeder pattern your school is in has already started working behind the scenes.

The first step is often a meeting with teachers and staff to identify goals and desires for the school  — and what kind of principal would fit that culture and mission. Armed with that, the executive director will begin looking through potential candidates.

The executive director will also begin identifying the potential members of the community panel — a panel of teachers, staff, parents, community members, and the PTA (or PTO) president. This panel will be instrumental in helping pick the new principal.

If you’re interested in helping, reach out to your assistant principal or to the executive director and let it be known. It’s an important task, and having willing participants is vital.

Once the executive director has chosen potential new principals, she or he interviews them, winnowing that list down to three. Once three candidates have been determined, they give a presentation and have a question and answer session with the community panel.

Now, here is the part that I hope the district finds a way to standardize — notifying that panel of meeting times.  Ask that the district give your panel at least 48 hours notice, otherwise you sometimes find yourself getting a 2 p.m. email announcing an 8 a.m. meeting the next day.

If 48 hours was the general rule, it would probably increase participation of this important step.

The interview with the panel consists of three parts. First, the candidate makes a PowerPoint presentation about their background and philosophy, as well as what they’ve identified as good things about your school as well as things that could be worked on after studying available data on your school.

Second, the executive director asks the candidate questions from a specific, standardized list, and then the panel follows up with their own questions. Lastly, the candidate asks the panel questions about their school. The Q&A portion is more informal and is typically done around a table.

After the panel has interviewed all the candidates, they confer and discuss which one seems like the best fit. In our case, all three candidates were phenomenal, but we definitely had a first choice and very close second choice we could close our eyes and see in our school, interacting with our students. 

After the panel makes a decision, the executive director gives the name to the Dallas ISD chief of school leadership (currently Stephanie Elizalde), who then also interviews the candidate for new principal. After that, if the chief of school leadership agrees with the panel, the candidate has one final interview with the district superintendent.

Once the candidate is approved, an announcement about the new principal is made to the panel and the school as a whole.

My experience was generally good. I think that once the ball got rolling, we were able to meet with our executive director and talk about what we wanted for the school, and get a better idea of the roadmap that would lead to a new principal.

Being open minded, but still having the school’s culture and goals in mind, meant that we actually were able to see all three candidates as amazing options. Being able to see our school’s good points and its needs meant that we could listen to a presentation without getting defensive, too.

I know nobody wants to see a beloved principal leave. But with open communication with your executive director and keeping an open mind (and being willing to admit that there are things even the most excellent school might need to work on) means you can find someone with a fresh perspective – a new principal that can make a good school great, and a great school phenomenal.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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