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Updated: 07/10/2013 08:03:11AM

Public school system puts the talent in the field

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Moving quickly to put her own imprimatur on the top management of the Polk County school system, newly-appointed Polk County School Supt. Katherine LeRoy, after three weeks on the job, hired five of her former associates from Duval County at six-figure salaries.

In a county in which numerous candidates for the school board (and, when the office was elective, school superintendent) have run on a platform of reducing the size of the district headquarters staff, addition of five new managers at salaries ranging from $103,622 to $131,299 undoubtedly caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised.

There is a mixed message in her decision not to promote from within the present Polk County staff. The superintendent said she renewed the contracts of all top executives “to calm the waters,” but that means the five new high-ranking administrators are an addition to the previously existing payroll.

That said, we reserve judgment on the wisdom of the new positions. If the five new executives can quickly produce measurable improvement in student performance, her decision will be validated.

As the new superintendent, with school board oversight, restructures the school district’s management, we would like to offer one observation:

In our opinion, which has been validated by a number of educators with whom we have discussed the topic over the years, performance of faculties, and hence students, lies primarily with principals.

While self-motivated, top-flight teachers will produce superior results with little oversight, the performance of faculties as a whole is a function of the effectiveness of principals.

Polk County has 163 school sites and more than 6,500 teachers, according to the district’s web site.

At one time, every city in Polk County large enough to have a high school had a position called supervising principal, responsible for all schools in his or her jurisdiction. Accountability was clear and effective.

As the school system grew, this concept was replaced by a system with a smaller number of area superintendents, each responsible for oversight of a far greater number of schools, and eventually to further concentration of supervision at the district office.

We do not profess to know the proper ratio of principals to supervisors, but it is obvious that no superintendent can adequately monitor the performance of more than 150 principals.

As Katherine LeRoy builds her own management team, we hope she will consider reducing, not expanding, the size of the district office staff, and putting more educational managers in the field to monitor, support, and — when necessary — replace principals.

It is in the classroom where learning takes place; principals are in the best position to ensure that is what is happening on 163 Polk County school campuses.

Closely monitoring performance of principals and teachers is a key to educational excellence.