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Release: Aug. 1, 2000

UI study shows schools seeks administrators with leadership, communication skills

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Aspiring principals, take note: School districts from across the country are seeking accomplished educators, instructional leaders with vision and passion, skilled communicators and technology wizards.

And while telephone interviews and writing samples are part of their selection process, district administrators say the resume and cover letter, letters of recommendation and reference checks are among the most important tools for screening applicants.

These are just some of the findings of "Selecting New Administrators for Tomorrow's Schools," the results of a survey of school districts in 49 states by the University of Iowa College of Education. Lead authors Rebecca Anthony, director of the UI College of Education Placement Office, and Gerald Roe, associate director, were assisted by Michelle Young, a former assistant professor in the college's Division of Planning, Policy and Leadership Studies.

Young said the report comes at a critical time in education. More and more states are raising standards for principals and other school administrators while the number of people available to fill these critical roles is declining.

"We decided to do this in response to all the discussion of the leadership crisis and how there are so many positions that are going to be opening up over the next few years," said Young, who left the UI Aug. 1 for a position with a research consortium based at the University of Missouri.

Anthony said the study benefits three major groups: hiring officials and school boards, candidates and others preparing to be administrators, and educators and institutions such as the University of Iowa that train and advise future job candidates.

The survey was co-sponsored by the educational placement offices of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University, who -- together with the UI -- make up the Educational Placement Consortium. It asked school executives and human resources personnel in urban, small city, suburban and rural districts about their selection processes, specifically what they look for in candidates and what they find.

As the authors of the survey found, the two don't always match up. Fewer than 50 percent of the job candidates brought in for interviews were considered well-prepared for the process, according to urban, small city, rural and suburban district administrators.

For instance, while districts said they most desire candidates with strong communication skills and leadership abilities, these were the areas in which candidates most often tripped up during the interview. A majority of respondents said candidates "hadn't thought through their beliefs on leadership" (61 percent), demonstrated "inadequate communication ability" (55 percent) and provided "no clear sense of purpose" during the interview (52 percent).

"Current school leaders and selection teams are looking for new administrators who know why they want a leadership position, what qualifies them to be leaders, and know how to articulate their goals and beliefs," Roe said.

Districts also expect candidates to be familiar with computer technology. At the very least, candidates are expected to understand word processing and e-mail applications, as well as database, Web search tools and spreadsheet tools and programs.

Other areas explored in the survey were recruiting/advertising methods used to attract top candidates, the makeup of district interview teams, key questions posed to candidates in the interview process and key portfolio materials. A separate report was generated from data collected in Iowa, whose data nearly mirrors the national findings.

Anthony said nearly one-third of the national sample of 1,004 districts returned questionnaires and 68 percent of Iowa superintendents responded.

"We were extremely pleased with the response rate," she said. "The high response rate seems to indicate a very significant level of interest in the topic."