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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 4, 2002

School principal jobs losing appeal

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

A promise of long hours, night and weekend obligations and endless volumes of paperwork appear to be eroding the state's efforts to recruit teachers into school administration.

The Department of Education is searching for 113 vice principals for the next school year, more than 40 percent of the state's total of 270. It's the highest number of such vacancies the department has ever faced, said Wendell Staszkow, a DOE personnel specialist who recruits people into school administration.

Already, officials expect they could fall short of their goal by as many as 35 positions.

"It's staggering," Staszkow said. "Over the last couple of years, the numbers have started expanding. We saw the tip of the iceberg a few years ago. Now we're seeing the whole thing."

The DOE will also likely have to fill about 20 of the state's 264 principalships, Staszkow said.

The public school system has been warning of a pressing shortage of vice principals and principals for years. Last year a superintendent's study noted that nearly 70 percent of all school-level administrators are older than 51. Less than 2 percent are under 40. More than half are already eligible or will become eligible for retirements in less than five years.

Phyllis Unebasami, who helps run training programs for administrators, said she was at a recent workshop where all the school administrators were asked to stand. Then they were asked to sit down if they could retire now, in one year or in two years.

It wasn't long before eight people were left standing.

"That to me was a big ah-ha moment," Unebasami said. "It doesn't mean they're all going to leave to retire, but it tells us that if we don't do things to make sure that people are going to be successful and prepared, they're not going to stay."

Unebasami said the scope of work that administrators do and the fact that teachers' pay has continued to rise in the last few years has made many educators second-guess a formerly attractive job in administration.

"When you look at what schooling is supposed to accomplish, the responsibility of an administrator is increasing," she said. "Just look at the social issues that weren't with us when we were in school."

Vice principal pay starts at $47,000 a year, while the highest-level teachers can expect to earn about $60,000, Staszkow said.

An experienced teacher would probably jump from $60,000 to $64,000 in pay if they took a vice principalship, but some find that it's not worth the extra workload.

"Let's say we have a vice principal vacancy," Staszkow said. "We look for teachers who have leadership ability. Now we have a teacher position to fill, and we already have a shortage of teachers. It's a constant problem."

Yvonne Chin, principal at Stevenson Middle School, said she has talked to several of her teachers about moving into administration.

"My teachers are young and they have families," she said. "As they watch us, it's like, 'Do we really want to do that?' It becomes increasingly difficult to convince them they would like to be in the position. Oftentimes we feel that we have neglected our own families. It's an issue that all administrators have to face."

Gayle Sugita, principal at Kaiser High School, gets a similar response when she tries to recruit teachers for vice principalships.

"We get laughed out of the water," Sugita said. "I think the present administrators are a poor role model. They see me here from morning to evening on Sundays and Saturdays. They realize there's a lot of time that has to be put into the job. People have lives."

In the next few weeks, Chin will spend at least one Sunday and two Thursday nights at campus activities, in addition to a regular workload that she admits is enormous.

Chin was vice principal at Stevenson for several years and is in her second year as principal. But she's still trying to find someone to fill her old job. For now, a teacher serves as the school's acting vice principal — a short-term solution that officials say has become increasingly necessary across the state.

But Chin said the rewards of school administration are as big as the workload.

"I think if you talk to any principal they will say they do it for the students," Chin said. "In the end if they feel like they've done something for any one student, we have done something good. That's the reason we hang in there."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.