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Release: Immediate

Principals need community relations training, UI professor says

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Over the past 15 years national education groups have pushed for greater community and parental involvement in public schools. But in terms of preparing Iowa principals to be a community liaison, little has been done, says a University of Iowa professor who is closely looking at principals' professional development needs.

College of Education professors Michelle Young and Stewart Ehly are researching Iowa public school principals' roles in developing and sustaining parental and community involvement programs. Young says research in this area is needed because prior studies have concentrated mostly on determining what skills teachers need in order to build effective relationships with parents and community members.

"We have a number of expectations for principals in regard to parent and community involvement, but we don't know what skills they need," Young says.

Young and Ehly's early research findings from surveys of 200 principals show that in Iowa most principals agree that parental involvement is a very important part of the schooling process, but few school administrators have had training in either parent or community involvement. Young says many administrators are forging ahead with available information and resources to create programs.

Young says that in the absence of training programs, principals may feel uncertain about how to effectively involve parents in decision-making, how to address parental demands for school change or how to involve parents who feel alienated from the school.

As communities grow more diverse, principals will need skills that prepare them, for example, to develop and implement changes collaboratively with their communities, Young says.

Young says these and other preliminary findings have implications for future preparation and professional development programs.

The researchers hope to apply the information gathered from their yearlong research to develop principalship training and professional programs to educate them in building respect and trust among parents and school staff.

The principal study is funded by a grant from First in the Nation in Education, an Iowa educational research foundation. The researchers will provide their findings to Iowa educational policymakers, principal professional development groups and principal training institutions at the UI, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, and Drake University.