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Assistant Principal Advancement to the Principalship:

A Guide for School Districts

​​This guide can help school districts that want to examine and improve how they prepare assistant principals for the principal’s job. ​
June 2023
60 Min Read
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Almost any organization would benefit by having a way to fill leadership vacancies effectively. Schools are no exception. This guide, prepared at a time when the rate of principal turnover was approaching 20 percent, seeks to help school districts examine and improve how they can tap one source of talent to fill the principal’s job—assistant principals, APs.  

The guide describes steps in developing a strong approach to advancing APs to the principalship, beginning with the formation of a team to examine current district AP promotion practices and to come up with a plan to fill gaps in the district’s current practices. It also breaks down the work for the team into three components: forecasting principal vacancies, identifying assistant principals who have significant potential to fill the principal post, and preparing APs for the job. For each, the guide describes the kind of data the team needs for understanding and informed decision-making.  

The heart of the guide is a set of “district reflection” tools for three areas of work—forecasting principal vacancies, identifying AP candidates for the job, and preparing them to take on the position. The tools are meant to give users a full picture of what's involved in carrying out these tasks and where districts may need to make improvements. Another tool, a workplan template, can help the teams organize their efforts and reach decisions on matters including timelines, success measures, and costs.

The guide is one in a set of tools Policy Studies Associates has developed to aid districts engaged in building principal pipelines. The Principal Pipeline Self-Study Guide for Districts maps out the key features of effective pipelines and offers guidance to districts that want to improve them. Strong Pipelines, Strong Principals, written with Education Counsel, identifies federal funding sources to support specific efforts to strengthen a pipeline. The Principal Pipeline Sustainability Guide explains what it takes to sustain an effective principal pipeline and provides tools to help school district teams keep the pipeline going. 


Having high expectations for all is one key to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and less advantaged students.

This change comes in part as a response to twin realizations: Career success in a global economy depends on a strong education; for all segments of U.S. society to be able to compete fairly, the yawning gap in academic achievement between disadvantaged and advantaged students needs to narrow. In a school, that begins with a principal's spelling out "high standards and rigorous learning goals," Vanderbilt University researchers assert with underlined emphasis. 

Specifically, they say, "The research literature over the last quarter century has consistently supported the notion that having high expectations for all, including clear and public standards, is one key to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and less advantaged students and for raising the overall achievement of all students."

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