A Survey of Day School Principals in the United States

Published: 
Aug. 06, 2007

Source: The Avi Chai Foundation

 

This report is based on a survey sponsored by The AVI CHAI Foundation during the 2005-06 school year of slightly more than 500 day school principals listed in the directories for Community, Solomon Schechter (Conservative), Reform and Modern and Centrist Orthodox institutions carried out by Dr. Marvin Schick. This survey represents a first effort to obtain broad-based information about day school leaders. The study achieved a high response rate of over 75% and thus provides highly reliable data about the personal characteristics and the professional backgrounds of educational leaders in day schools.

Some conclusions from the Executive Summary:

Contrary to what seems to be popular wisdom, an astonishingly high degree of job and career satisfaction was reported, with more than 80% of the respondents characterizing their experience as principal as rewarding, with another 14% describing it as satisfactory. Only 4% express negative feelings. In a similar vein, 93% say their decision to make Jewish education their career choice was wise or good. However, one-third indicate that they sense greater dissatisfaction in the ranks of day school principals than they did previously.

Qualitative research via focus groups or another process may be warranted to ferret out whether when they speak about their work principals provide a somewhat less rosy picture. It may be the case that those principals who are dissatisfied with their job or career choice tend to leave the field.

There is a consensus among the principals that the job has gotten harder. The reasons are easy to come by. As in other fields, there is an explosion of paperwork, with a constant flow of communications, written and oral, that require attention and probably more often than not, a response.

Another factor making the job harder is the heightened involvement of parents in the education of their children. They are ready to pounce on the principal when they feel that their child has been treated unfairly by a teacher or parent or in some other manner. Still another factor is
the apparent alarming increase in behavioral and emotional problems among the student population that crop up at school, reflecting to a large extent what is happening at home and in the larger society.

Furthermore, more than one-half of the principals report that fundraising for their school is also on their plate and five of six report that they are responsible for non-educational activity, including the operation of the school’s office and maintenance.

In line with societal and Jewish communal trends, nearly half (45%) of the principals are women. Likely, before long, women will constitute a majority of the principals in the day school sectors covered by this research. Also consistent with what occurs in professional life, women principals are paid significantly below what men earn. Gender clearly makes a difference, as do the size of the school and whether the job-holder has the “head of school” or “principal” title.

Only one in four principals is younger than 45 and a relatively small number are 65 or older.

The survey is but a snapshot of the world of day school principals taken at a particular moment. Comparative analysis is possible only when the research has predecessors or successors. This is apparently the first comprehensive survey of day school principals. It is to be hoped that there will be a follow-up.

Updated: May. 10, 2009
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