Last week in Los Angeles, I met with other Catholic school superintendents to explore why it was becoming difficult to attract new principals to our Catholic schools.   The following were reasons that surfaced:

  1. Compensation. We’re simply not paying enough to attract (and keep) talented candidates.
  2. Attitude. Our current principals are not attracting people to the positions.  They seem beleaguered, complain about the work, and don’t express an attitude of gratitude.
  3. Understanding. The Catholic school principal position has changed.  It is no longer simply an administrative position which requires one to mediate conflicts, manage programs & budgets that are already in place.  It requires leadership, entrepreneurship, fundraising, board management, and vision.

These three reasons seem unrelated.  But I’m not so sure.

Vickie Donisthorpe at Central Catholic (Great Falls) is exhibiting the kind of entrepreneurial spirit needed in her position.  She is planning to travel to China to meet the prospective parents of international students.  She has embraced the international program as a means for Central Catholic to become sustainable.  She understands that she needs to “think outside the box” in order to build support for the school.  In the face of difficult enrollment and financial issues, she remains positive and upbeat.

Alongside trying to develop our leadership skills, we can control our attitudes.  What will you say the next time someone asks you about your job?  Do you love it?  Or will you complain about the long hours, the thankless tasks, and the difficult parents?  If you focus on the negative, your reality becomes negative.

Perhaps the reason we are not paying and the reason our current principals are beleaguered is the lack of understanding of what the position now requires.  We no longer need managers—we need leaders.  If people were to understand the tremendous opportunities in the Catholic school principal positions (developing budgets, setting priorities, raising money, cultivating board members, recruiting students, hiring staff), then we would pay what the position requires and we could also recruit better candidates.

More importantly, if we come to understand the skills and attitudes that the position requires, we’ll have a better group of current principals!