A recent study titled “Principal Turnover: Insights From Current Principals” highlighted five main reasons why principals leave their schools. According to researchers Levin, Bradley, and Scott (2019), reasons included “inadequate preparation and professional development, poor working conditions, insufficient salaries, lack of decision-making authority, and ineffective accountability policies.” Although this was a national study surveying secondary level administrators, these reasons mirror the challenges Adventist school systems face. One of the toughest positions to fill and retain in Adventist education ministry is school principal. No matter the school’s configuration, not many jump at the chance of leading an Adventist school. Recognizing this challenge, Southern California Conference (SCC) Vice President for Education Harold Crook, Ed.D., sought to address some of these key areas.
In 2011, Crook implemented what SCC principals know as PEP (Principals’ Enrichment Program) to help new principals understand the nuts and bolts of their roles while creating a community of collaboration among peers. Quarterly meetings focused on topics important to a principal’s success, such as identifying ways to create a positive campus culture from a position of spiritual leadership, understanding policies that help govern schools, managing school boards, evaluating and supporting instructional and ancillary staff, marketing Adventist education, and promoting effective customer service. From this effort, principals have come to feel more empowered, supported, and confident in accomplishing their jobs.
A few years later, Crook processed through the SCC Board of Education a couple of programs designed to provide more tangible affirmation of our principals. One of these programs was the Principal Retention Fund, funded through the Education department budget. Under this program, principals who have served one year or more in our field receive a monetary bonus in the fall of each year. For our PK-12 and boarding academy principals, $1,000 is added to their payroll checks. For our PK-8 principals, up to $800 is added. Additionally, each year one principal is awarded a trip to Maui, Hawaii, where he or she spends up to seven days vacationing, courtesy of the SCC Office of Education and private benefactors. The principal selected is one who has served several years at the school, demonstrating spiritual leadership, a high level of administrative competence, and dedication.
Since May 2011, turnover has been minimal, lending to a more stable workforce. It requires creativity, effort, and commitment on the part of those who care about holding on to talented Adventist educators; however, tangibly affirming our principals has proven beneficial.