Lots of new principals in city schools

Out of 270 Philadelphia district schools, 37 will get new principals. Retirement and resignation are causes.

Posted: July 16, 2007

A change in CEO isn't the only new thing sweeping the leadership ranks in the Philadelphia School District.

Thirty-seven of the district's 270 schools will get new principals this year, district officials said. Eleven are high schools, several of them high-profile. District officials said the turnover was larger than the usual 30 or so changes a year, although not as many as in 2003, when 52 schools got new principals.

The new leadership in the 174,000-student district comes as a result of retirements, resignations, and movement of principals to different schools.

Among the schools to see changes are Germantown High, where a student broke a teacher's neck in February, and West Philadelphia High, where the principal was replaced in March after complaints about student assaults on staff.

Also in line for new leadership will be the district's flagship High School of the Future, which saw the surprise resignation of its principal. Shirley Grover, hired by the district in 2005, left for personal reasons this month, officials said.

The district had recruited Grover, a Maine native, from a private school in Italy. She spent her first year in the district preparing for the opening of the West Philadelphia-based school, built in partnership with Microsoft Corp. The school opened in September, attracting international attention with its advanced technology and features.

Her departure was a blow to the district, officials said.

"It's very difficult when resignations come suddenly during the summer. We're going to have to overcome some obstacles for sure," said Albert Bichner, the district's deputy chief academic officer.

The district has started a national search for Grover's replacement. Grover could not be reached for comment.

Another surprise came when longtime Girls High principal Geraldine Myles announced her retirement recently. The magnet school also is searching for a replacement.

Several of the new high school principals have never run large high schools. But two have gone through the district's training program, which was revamped a couple of years ago with a $3.4 million Broad Foundation grant. The trainees, who already have their principal certificates but opt for the extra-intensive experience, spend a year shadowing a top-notch district principal and taking classes on national and local leadership trends.

"I am very confident in these principals," said Karen Kolsky, who heads the training program.

Preliminary data show that schools where 10 graduates of the program worked as principals last year fared well, showing better than typical student and staff attendance and achievement, Kolsky said.

Among the new principals for this year is Saliyah Cruz, who will take over at West Philadelphia High. She previously was an administrator at the Freire Charter School in Philadelphia and before that an English teacher in the district. She spent most of her training at the district's High School for Creative and Performing Arts and later at West Philadelphia, Kolsky said.

"She has not only a strong instructional focus, but also has a good ability to build consensus and collaboration," Bichner said of Cruz.

Christopher Baker, a retired Marine colonel who had been at Olney High, will help run the building, he said.

Ozzie Wright and Tina Caldwell, who had been sent in temporarily to run West Philadelphia in the spring, will move to other jobs. Wright, a retired Army captain, will return to his previous assignment as principal of the district's military high school at Leeds.

Caldwell will become principal of Lamberton High.

Because of the fledgling leadership at several schools, the district is lining up veterans to provide support when needed and taking care to build leadership teams at each school with the right balance of skills, Bichner said.

But Bichner said he's not worried about the newness.

"Everybody has a first time," he said.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, agreed.

"If they are able to pull a team around them," Jordan said, "they can successfully operate."

But Jordan said he was worried about turnover in principals and teachers.

"It has a lot to do with the working conditions and the schools," he said. "Teachers and principals in many of our schools are working without enough resources in order to do the kind of job that we know needs to be done. So it becomes very frustrating."

Greg Wade, president of the Home and School Council, the district's parents group, said he was concerned about the newness of some principals, especially those in line to run large neighborhood high schools.

"It can be a little scary," he said. "I know the person training them [Kolsky], and I know they are very good at what they do, but sometimes maybe it would be better to have a veteran in a high school like West Philadelphia or Germantown, where they have had problems."

But he noted positively that Cruz has reached out to him for help in organizing parents. The council will work more closely in schools with new leadership, he said.

At Germantown High, Michael Silverman, who had been principal of Lea Elementary, will take over.

"He looked for the challenge," Bichner said, "and he was the number-one choice of the community, the faculty and the clergy."

Some of the other high schools to see new leaders are: FitzSimons, where assistant principal Darryl Overton will move up. Roxborough High, which will get former FitzSimons principal Richard Jenkins. Edison, which will have David Lugo, a graduate of the district training program who had been an assistant principal at Edison; he replaces longtime principal Jose Lebron, a retiree.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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