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Report Series: Principal Pipeline Initiative
Part 6 of 9

Leader Tracking Systems

Turning Data Into Information for School Leadership

Data systems can aid in principal hiring, training, and other aspects of improving school leadership. Here's guidance on how to build them.
June 2017
A teacher standing in a hallway with 5 boys and girls students
  • Author(s)
  • Leslie M Anderson, Brenda J. Turnbull, and Erikson R. Arcaira
  • Publisher(s)
  • Policy Studies Associates, Inc.
Page Count 38 pages


How we did this

This report draws on interviews with school district system developers, directors of talent development, and other district leaders in fall and winter 2016-17.  The analysis is intended to inform other practitioners about the lessons learned and the opportunities revealed from those who have built and used a leader tracking system. 

Good data about principals and applicants for the job can lead to informed decisions about hiring and other matters. Organizing and analyzing the data can be difficult, though.

Six large school districts set out to meet the challenge by creating databases called “leader tracking systems.” This report describes how. It also shares lessons learned in building and rolling out these systems.

The districts were part of The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative. This effort supported the districts in building a systematic approach to creating a large corps of effective school leaders. The approach involved developing rigorous leader standards, high-quality principal preparation, selective hiring and placement, and apt on-the-job evaluation and support. The approach proved successful in positively affecting student achievement and principal retention.

Leader tracking systems were part of the work. The data these systems collected on principals and principal candidates included:

  • Background (race, age, gender, education, professional development received, and work experience)
  • Measured competencies and strengths (past evaluations, leadership assessment scores, languages spoken)
  • Schools served (school size, student demographics, and student performance during candidate’s tenure).
Advantages of Leader Tracking Systems

Districts found that leader tracking systems helped them with:

  • Matching principals to school vacancies. Districts can review candidate data and quickly identify potential matches for school needs. Finalists can be easily compared with each other.
  • Improving on-the-job support. Supervisors and mentors can easily gain access to information on each principal’s strengths and growth needs. They can then tailor support to the individual.
  • Preparing for future leadership needs. The tracking system can help in forecasting retirements. The needs of schools with anticipated vacancies can then be compared with the capabilities of those in the candidate pool. Targeted recruitment can be stepped up as needed. 
  • Improving the principal pipeline. Leader tracking systems can correlate school success with things like a principal’s prior experiences and on-the-job support. Districts can then see the type of preparation, selection criteria, and school leader support that make a difference in student learning.



You don't know what you don't know until you have the data right in your face.

— Administrator in a district that built a leader tracking system
Leader Tracking Systems and Fostering Educational Equity

A leader tracking system does not set priorities for a district. But it can supply important demographic data, including the numbers and characteristics of sitting and aspiring leaders. In doing so, it can highlight issues that districts should pay attention to and inform discussions about those issues.   

For example, when one of the districts began filtering data by race and ethnicity, it saw a gap. Black and Hispanic school leaders were in short supply relative to the student population. Learning that spurred the district to make greater recruiting efforts among teachers of color.  Another district examined its data on aspiring principals’ cultural competency. The “eye-opening” shortcomings the data revealed promoted new kinds of discussions about district needs. 

The Principal Pipeline Initiative school districts were: 

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. 
  • Denver
  • Gwinnett County, Ga. 
  • Hillsborough County, Fla.
  • New York City 
  • Prince George’s County, Md. 

Key Takeaways

  • Six large school districts created online “leader tracking systems” to make better decisions about matters such as preparing, hiring, and supporting school leaders. 
  • Data tracked for principals and principal candidates included education and work experience, measured competencies, and the success of schools under their leadership.
  • Leader tracking systems helped achieve many goals. These included better matching of principal candidates to schools and recognizing equity needs. Districts used data to prepare for anticipated vacancies. They also used data to better tailor on-the-job support to principal needs. 
  • Districts also used the data to help improve their principal pipelines. Districts were able to see what kinds of preparation, selection criteria, and school leader support made a difference in student learning.  
  • Districts had many lessons to share about building a leader tracking system. Among them were to include core users on the design team, gather ideas from other districts, and repeatedly test the system on users and revise it. 
Related Report

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