How Superintendents Can Improve Student Achievement

October 4, 2021

By Dr. Patrese A. Mason

I first discovered the need for a new and improved strategy to address district-wide student achievement when I was a school principal and administrator in elementary, middle, and high schools. Like others, I too was determined to improve my students’ scores, and due to a lack of cutting-edge, in-district principal preparation support, I turned my attention to research. 

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According to Turnbill et al. (2016), preparation programs and district professional development for principals should include specialized coaching and mentoring focused on developing leadership committed to educational equity. Principals should receive this type of strategic support to be successful in building their teams, decreasing the district’s turnover rate, and increasing all students’ achievement. During my administration days, my colleagues seeking support agreed that school principals need specialized preparation beyond their supervisor and beyond that of their district. To be highly effective, innovative leaders who implement, monitor, and adjust their leadership to improve student achievement requires access to building their experience without consequential implications. When digital simulations guided by a skilled professional are a strategic component of educational leaders’ preparation, thought-provoking conversations, collaboration, and deep reflection occurs. This builds their decision-making capacity before a real issue occurs, possibly preventing expensive costs to the organization. 


However, a 2013 MetLife survey report found that 75% of principals found their jobs already too complex. The job’s complexity presents the question, what can be done to bolster professional development for principals to ensure they receive specialized coaching and mentoring?


According to Manna (2015), when superintendents properly prepare principals, they prepare for improved student achievement. Amongst the over 700 university-based programs in the United States and hundreds of district-based programs, over 90% agree that preparing the principal is “very/extremely important.” Yet, programming falls short. School districts and university preparation programs for educators charged with providing educational leaders with expert coaching coined with experience in a risk-free environment can position themselves to strategically and consistently improve student achievement. 


Some suggestions have emerged from the research. 


Leadership Standards


While many school districts have standards for their principals, these standards are often not consistent across the state. This makes things difficult during recruitment and hiring processes. For standards adoption to be successful, states should consider how they plan to differentiate between types of leaders, as principals, assistant principals, and superintendents all operate with varying degrees of responsibility. In addition, these new standards should be embroidered in the fabric of leadership practice and regularly discussed as part of continuing educational development. 


Professional Development


It is no secret that continuing education is an essential piece of the education field. As our world continues to develop and advance, ongoing training will only become that much more critical. Few resources are allocated for professional development that is both innovative and relevant for today’s demanding educational leader. Software simulations, which help to manufacture experiences in a safe space, can be the anecdote for time. By evaluating how various educational initiatives are prioritized, states and districts can assess where resources are needed and respond accordingly. 


Principal Evaluation 


When working toward any goal or outcome, continuous monitoring and assessment of progress are critical. As more information emerges from the research for principal professional development, districts and states should remain flexible in their implementation efforts. A robust assessment process will emerge by pulling principals into the process, both by assessing their progress and hearing their concerns. 


Superintendents, principals, and teachers agree that each student’s success and wellbeing is the most critical goal in any school system. This means that each position, from teachers through superintendents, should be evaluated against their student’s success. Proper resources and unwavering preparation to support principal success is a smart investment for the superintendent seeking to move their district to the next level of achievement. 

About Dr. Patrese A. Mason, The Superintendents’ Chief Consultant TM



Dr. Mason is the CEO of Dr. Patrese A. Mason LLC, an educational consultancy, life, and business coaching, and international speaker services firm. She supports superintendents and directors of university preparation programs to develop leaders by increasing their capacity to prioritize their health, home, and work where they affect policies and practices that realize educational equity and inclusion. Further, her firm expands economic development by building women CEOs who also learn to balance and prioritize their health, home, while building a sustainable, successful company. 


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Manna, P. (2015). Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy, New York, NY: The Wallace Foundation.