The Saskatchewan Principalship Study
Report Three: The Principal and School-Community Relations
By Barry G. Lucas
SSTA Research Centre Report #125: 65 pages, $14.
|Introduction||It is very clear that principals regard
school-community relations as a key area of concern in their roles, and it was therefore
decided to focus on this area in a separate sub-report of the Principalship Study.
One of the issues which clearly emerged from the conference sessions concerned the role of local boards of school trustees, and in the second conference a group interview was held with principals from rural school divisions in order to gather data based on their first-hand experiences in working with local boards.
|Parental Involvement in the School|
|The Principal's Role in School-Community Relations|
|Local Boards of School Trustees|
|Summary and Conclusions|
|Recommendations for Further Study|
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The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.
In designing a study of the school principalship, it is certainly essential to determine the perceptions that principals themselves have of the research needs and priorities in their profession. For this reason, the Saskatchewan School Principalship Study included two invitational conferences for principals from across the province, the first held in Saskatoon on March 19, 1982, and the second held in the same city on May 13, 1983. In the first conference, principals mat in small and large group sessions in order to share experiences and concerns and to identify and priorize research needs in the principalship. In the second conference, group discussions focused on concerns and needs in preparing for the rule of principal, including formal preparation programs and professional development activities.
Both of these conferences made it very clear that principals regarded school-community relations as a key area of concern in their roles, and it was therefore decided to focus on this area in a separate sub-report of the Principalship Study. For this purpose, the conferences themselves were very useful in identifying issues which should be included in a school-community relations study and in providing the opportunity to gather same preliminary data from principals regarding these issues. For example, one of the issues which clearly emerged from the conference sessions concerned the role of local boards of school trustees, and in the second conference a group interview was held with principals from rural school divisionsin order to gather data based on their first-hand experiences in working with local boards.
The central source of data to be analyzed in this report, however, is a school-community relations questionnaire which was distributed to a random sample of principals in rural and urban school divisions in the province. Topics covered in this questionnaire included: Parental Involvement in the School; School-Community Contacts; The Principal's Role in School Community Relations; Parents' Associations; and Local Boards of School Trustees. Principals in rural and urban school divisions received the same questionnaire, with the exception that the questionnaire sent to rural principals included a section dealing with the role of local boards of school trustees.
In connection with the latter topic, a questionnaire was also sent to a sample of school trustees. This questionnaire was based on items included in the rural principals' questionnaire, and thus permitted caparisons to be made between the perceptions of principals and trustees.
With regard to the size of these samples and the rate of return from the questionnaire distribution, the sample of rural principals was 247, with a return rate of 166 or 66.2%, while the sample of urban principals was 129, with a return rate of 105 or 81.3l. In the case of school trustees, the 247 principals in the rural sample were asked to distribute trustee questionnaires to two trustees on the local boards associated with their schools. The sample of trustees thus amounted to a total of 494. The return rate was 198 or 40%. One of the reasons for the smaller return of the trustees' questionnaire is that a number of principals did not have local boards in their schools. However, the trustees' questionnaires that were received provided a useful indication of the views of school trustees as a group, and it should be noted as well that many of the trustees included extensive comments in responding to the questionnaire.
In relation to these sampling procedures, the basic method of analysis in this report is a comparison of the responses of rural and urban principals (and, in the case of the local board section of the questionnaires, a comparison of the responses of rural principals and school trustees). It needs to be stressed, however, that evident differences between the responses of the two groups of principals must be interpreted cautiously. Clearly, the problem in interpreting such differences is to account for factors which actually underlie the very broad categories of "rural" and "urban". For example, it seems quite possible that differences in responses between the two groups of principals might reflect differences in the size of schools in rural and urban areas.
For this reason, this section of the introduction will summarize same demographic data from the principals' questionnaires which may be useful in interpreting the findings subsequently presented in the report. First, as noted above, the factor of school size needs to be considered. Principals were asked to indicate the size of their schools in terms of numbers of Full-time Equivalent Teachers, ranging from 1-5 teachers to 25 or more.
As the table points out between the two groups of principals in terms of the smallest sized schools (1-5 FTE), with 27.1% of the rural school principals reporting schools of this size, compared with only 6.7% of the urban school principals. Conversely, a relatively larger proportion of the urban principals represented schools in the 16 and above FTE categories, with the most distinctive difference between the two groups occurring in the 25 and aver FTE category.
Relatedly, the grade level of schools may help to explain differences in experiences and perceptions between rural and urban principals. Principals were asked in the questionnaire to circle the grades included in their schools, and this data was categorized as indicated in Table 2. In the total group of principals, elementary school principals constituted the largest group of principals (55.7%), while principals of K-12 schools constituted the second largest group (26.1%). In comparison, however, the proportion of elementary school principals in the sample of urban principals was nearly twice as high as the proportion in the sample of rural principals (79% and 41% respectively). The sample of urban principals also included a larger proportion of high school principals. On the other hand, the sample of rural principals included almost all of the K-12 and 7-12 principals in the total group of principals surveyed.
A final factor which may be the most significant consideration in interpreting differences in the responses of rural and urban principals concerns the time that is available to principals for engaging in non-teaching activities, including school-community relations activities. In the principals' questionnaire, principals were asked to indicate on a checklist how much time per week they had free from classroom teaching to enable them to perform their administrative and supervisory functions. As summarized in Table 3, the results of this question demonstrated very distinctive differences between rural and urban principals. It will be noted, for example, that all of the principals who had "0 Hours" administration time were rural principals. Furthermore, if the responses in the first three categories ranging from "0 Hours" to "3 - 4 1/2 Hours" are combined, it will be noted that a total of 41.6% of the rural principals in the study had administrative time of 4 1/2 hours per week or less in comparison with only 1.9a of the urban principals. Conversely, 34.3% of the urban principals in the study were full-time administrators in comparison with only 2.4% of the rural principals. While it cannot he claimed in this study that any direct relationships exists between degree of interest and involvement in school-community relations and time available for such pursuits, it is hard to believe that principals are not affected by this consideration. Certainly the possibility of such a relationship deserves further study.
Having presented background information which may be pertinent to interpreting caparisons between rural and urban principals, the remainder of the report will present the results of the study in relation to the topics which were covered in the principals' questionnaire.
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Questions in this section of the questionnaire may be divided into the following three sub-topics: Parental Interest and Understanding; School Accessibility and Parent/Citizen Input: and, Parent Volunteers.
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The first two questions in this section were intended to provide an indication of what might be termed the "climate" of school-community relationships as perceived by principals. As opposed to a situation where parents were perceived as having no interest in the school and no real understanding of the professional responsibilities of school staff, it was assumed in asking these questions that a more effective school-community climate would be indicated by perceptions of higher degrees of parental interest and understanding. Specifically, the first question asked principals to estimate the level of interest that parents had in school activities, while the second asked them to estimate the degree to which parents understood the tasks and responsibilities of the professional staff in the school.
Results of the first question are summarized in Table 4. In the total group of principals, the large majority ranked parental interest in school activities as either considerable or moderate. Only 10.3% of the group felt that there was slight parental interest, and only one principal responded that there was no interest. Differences between the responses of rural and urban principals were evident in the "considerable interest" category, with 36.7% of the rural principals responding to this effect, in comparison with 50.5% of the urban principals. On the other hand, 51.8% of the rural principals ranked parental interest as "moderate", in comparison with 40% of the urban principals.
In general, these results indicated that principals perceived parents as having a relatively high level of interest in the schools attended by their children. Quite a different picture emerged, however, from the second question which asked principals to estimate parental understanding of professional responsibilities. As Table 5 points out, the percentage of responses in the "considerable" category was substantially lower than in the previous question, while the percentage in the "slight" category was substantially higher, with nearly one-third of the total group of principals ranking parental understanding at this level. In this same category, a very distinctive difference was also evident between the responses of rural and urban principals, with 43.4$ of the former responding that parental understanding was slight, in comparison with 15.2% of the latter.
This question touches on a central issue in school-community relations. Educators may at times experience considerable frustration because sane members of the public (and same media reports) appear to grossly underrate the complexities and demands of school teaching and administration, and to deny the professional status and skills of those who undertake these responsibilities in our society. Nor can educators call upon same form of rnystique to enhance their professional images, for the schools are "everybody's business" in terms of their significance in society and their proximity to the everyday lives of citizens. Though there are certainly no panaceas available for dealing with this fundamental problem of communication between the schools and the public, it is very clear that direct public involvement in the schools provides the central means for promoting public understanding and appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of those who staff them.
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The purpose of the three questions to be reviewed in this sub-topic was to provide an indication of how principals felt about the accessibility of their schools to parents and about the amount of input that parents and other citizens should have in decisions affecting the schools. The first question asked principals what their preference was regarding parent visits to the school during the school day. As summarized in Table 6, the results demonstrated that the large majority of principals felt their schools should he accessible to parents, either on a "drop-in" basis, or after first contacting the office. Very few felt that visits should be restricted to formal occasions. With regard to caparisons between rural and urban principals, the results did not indicate any significant differences in responses.
In interpreting this question, it should be noted that the response categories are not meant to represent practices which are necessarily desirable. Clearly, total "openness" to the outside world is not necessarily desirable in an institution which must, after all, maintain same degree of integrity from outside intervention in order to carry out its responsibilities in society. The overall implication of these results, however, is that principals were generally concerned with maintaining an accessible rather than "closed" school system. This attitude is obviously fundamental to the establishment of effective relationships with the community.
The question arises, however, whether the concern that principals have for the accessibility of their schools extends to support for an active role on the part of parents. This question was addressed in the principals' questionnaire in an item which asked principals whether they would like parents to take more initiative in approaching them and their staffs about school-related matters. As Table 7 points out, 62.7a of the total group of principals replied that they would like this to occur. This affirmation was even stronger in the case of the rural principals, with 65.7% responding in this category in comparison with 58.1% of the urban principals. On the other hand, a slightly larger proportion of the urban principals responded that parents took the right amount of initiative now in contacting the school. A very small number of principals felt that parents took too much initiative in contacting the schools.
The third question in this sub-topic was adapted from a 1979 Gallop Poll (sponsored by the Canadian Education Association) which surveyed public opinion about public involvement in educational decisions. One of the questions in the poll asked the nationally-representative sample of Canadians, "How do you feel about the amount of say that the general public has in how the schools are run." With the focus on the school division level, this same question was asked in the principals' questionnaire. The results are summarized in Table 8. As the Table points out, only a small percentage of the total group of principals (5.5%) felt that the public had "too much say" in running the schools in the school division. Instead, the majority (71.2%) responded that the public had "enough say". In the breakdown between rural and urban principals, a slightly higher proportion of the rural principals had this reaction.
On the other hand, the percentage of urban principals (17.1%) who responded that the public had "too little say" was slightly higher than the percentage of rural principals (13.3%).
While a direct comparison cannot be made between these results and these obtained from the 1979 Gallop Poll, it may be interesting to review the results from the national sample of Canadians. Thus, 4.8% of the national sample said that the public had "too much say"; 40.9a said that the public had "enough say": 49.5% said that the public had "too little say"; and 4.8% responded in the category "don't know/not stated". Very similar results have been obtained from recent surveys of parent opinions in a number of school divisions in Saskatchewan. For example, out of a total of 1009 parents who were surveyed in three school divisions, an average percentage of 50% responded that the public had "too little say" in educational decisions.
This evident gap between public opinions and these of professional educators touches on another fundamental issue in school-community relations. Many opinion polls have demonstrated public dissatisfaction with the public's perceived amount of say in educational decision-making. Nor is this dissatisfaction surprising in view of current economic conditions which have been characterized by continually rising school taxes on the one hand, and by declining school services on the other (such as in the closure of schools in small communities). At the same time, the apparent tendency for same citizens to complain about lack of input and yet not to make use of the avenues which already exist for this purpose may be a source of same frustration to educators.
It would clearly be naive, however, to use apparent public apathy as a reason for restricting public access to the schools. In the first place, as many school administrators have goad reason to know, so-called "apathy" in a community can quickly turn into the most intense political activism, depending upon the issues at stake (such as school closure). Secondly, as also demonstrated by much experience, organizations which attempt to wall themselves off from the outside world tend eventually to have change imposed upon them by that world. At such times, in other words, leadership is in effect surrendered to sources outside the organization. Current literature on the principalship thus stresses the need for a "proactive" (as opposed to "reactive") style of school leadership in the sense of anticipating events and of initiating actions intended to exert same degree of control over those events. This style obviously requires the development and maintenance of sources of communication and information, including those provided by systematic methods of interacting with the public.
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As summarized in Table 9, the final question in this section dealt with the direct involvement of parents as volunteers in the schools. While nearly 60% of the total group of principals reported that parent volunteers were used in their schools, the results indicated distinctive differences between the rural and urban groups of principals, with 83.8% of the latter group reporting parent volunteers, in comparison with only 44.6% of the former group. However, this question provides a clear example of the need for caution in interpreting apparent differences between the two groups. In fact, grade level of the schools represented by principals appeared to be a central factor underlying differences in the use of parent volunteers. Thus, a breakdown of the responses by grade level indicated that the large majority of principals (73.7%) o reported using parent volunteers were from elementary schools. This finding may be compared with the description of the sample which was summarized in Table 2. As the Table pointed out, the proportion of elementary school principals in the sample of urban principals was nearly twice as high as the proportion in the sample of rural principals.
A central finding in this question, then, was that the use of parent volunteers was much more common in elementary schools than in secondary schools. It should also be noted, however, that there was wide variation in the use of parent volunteers. Principals were also asked to briefly describe the nature and extent of their parent volunteer programs, and, in same cases, very extensive programs were described (both in small and large schools), while in other cases only one or two volunteers were involved on a very limited basis.
As to the "pros and cans" of using parent volunteers (and certainly there are disadvantages and difficulties), this report will not undertake a detailed discussion, other than to stress that parent volunteer programs tend to make a key contribution to the development of cooperative and mutually-supportive relationships between the school and the community. Much research has demonstrated that the more closely people are associated with the school, the more they tend to became supporters of the school. In addition, of course, parent volunteers can contribute much needed resources to schools, including the special skills and talents of community members, and the opportunity to more effectively individualize instruction by enlisting parental assistance in enrichment and remedial activities. With these potential advantages in mind, it was somewhat surprising in this study to note the considerable number of schools which apparently made no use whatsoever of voluntary help from the community. For example, a grade level breakdown of the results summarized in Table 9 indicates that 56.3% of the K - 12 schools represented in the sample of principals made no use of parent volunteers. As Table 2 pointed out the large majority of these schools are located in rural school divisions. For secondary schools (including junior high and high schools), the figure is even higher, with 63.2% of the principals reporting no parent volunteers. Allowing for possible misinterpretation of the questionnaire item by same respondents, the results still indicate substantial neglect of a critical resource in developing the school program and in building effective school-community relations.
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Should schools have programs of school-community relations It can be argued that this is really not a matter of conscious choice in our society. Rather, schools came into daily contact with their communities in a myriad of ways--formal, informal, direct, indirect--and, cumulatively, these contacts may be regarded as an operating "program" of school-community relations. Thus, if there is a choice to be made, it is whether to develop and conduct the program on a planned and systematic basis, or whether to let it merely "happen". This clearly involves choosing between the "proactive" and "reactive" styles of school leadership which were previously mentioned in the discussion of Table 8.
Principals were asked five questions which were intended to indicate the extent of contacts in the school-community relations programs of their schools. The questions may be divided into two sub-topics: School Community Communication and Special Occasions.
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As Table 10 points out, the first question asked principals to estimate the number of times that they personally talked with parents during a typical school week, either by telephone or in person. The large majority of principals responded that such personal communication occurred either several times a day or at least once a day. A difference is evident, however, in the responses of the two groups of principals. If the two categories of responses referring to daily communication with parents are combined, it will be noted that a total of 65% of the rural principals reported daily contacts, in comparison with 82.8% of the urban principals. Again, this difference may reflect underlying factors, notably with regard to the tendency for smaller schools to he located in rural school divisions.
As another measure of school-community communication, the second question asked principals to estimate the number of letters of communication (such as newsletters) sent to parents during the school year. The summary of responses in Table 11 points out that the large majority (83%) estimated this type of communication to amount to "five or more" during the "current" school year. (Principals received the questionnaires in May, 19831. Again, a difference occurred between the two groups of principals, with 76.5% of the rural group responding in the "five or more category" in comparison with 93.3% of the urban group. School size would also appear to be a likely underlying factor in explaining this difference.
It must be acknowledged that the results of these two questions provide only a very rough estimate of the actual amount of oral and written communication between the school and parents. As several principals commented, for example, the "five or more" category in the second question was quite inadequate to account for the large amount and variety of written communications from their schools to parents. A number of principals also pointed out that it would be difficult for them to be aware of all letters of communication from the school since individual classroom teachers also forwarded written communications to parents.
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A more specific type of school-community contact consists of the special occasions for parent visits which are held in many schools each year. Principals were asked to indicate the yearly frequency of three examples of these occasions: parent-teacher interviews; student performances (e.g. concerts, plays); and, "open house" type activities (e.g. Open House Night, classroom visitations). Results of the three questions have been listed together, and are presented in Table 12 for the total group of principals, and in Table 13 for the comparison between the two groups of principals.
For the total group of principals, the general pattern of responses (Table 12) indicated that the three activities occurred in the great majority of schools on at least a yearly basis. Only in the "open 'house" category did a substantial percentage of principals (16.6%) respond that no such activities were held in their schools.
On the other hand, 24.3% reported that this type of activity occurred more than twice a year. It is also interesting to note that more than half of the principals reported that student performances were held more than twice a year. With regard to parent-teacher interviews, a number of principals commented that this item was confusing in that many individual parent-teacher conferences occurred in their schools throughout the year in addition to the formal yearly conferences involving the whole school. Actual figures for this type of school- community contact might therefore be much larger than indicated in Table 12.
In the comparison of the two groups summarized in Table 13, there is a notable difference in the "open house" type activity, with 25.9% of the rural principals reporting none of these activities in comparison with only 1.9a of the urban principals. At the other end of the scale, 47.6C of the urban principals reported that such activities occurred more than twice a year, in comparison with only 9.6% of the rural principals. A possible explanation for this difference (requiring further research) is that the formal open-house occasion for parents to visit the school is really not applicable in many rural schools since community members frequently drop by the school on an informal basis. In the other categories of activities, the responses of the two groups were generally similar, with the exception that a somewhat higher proportion of the urban principals responded that the activities occurred more than twice a year.
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Data from this section o f the questionnaire will be discussed in terns of two sub-topics: Tire Spent on Community Relations Activities; and Skills and Resources Required for Community Relations.
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This section of the questionnaire reflected the previous section in that it was concerned with the time spent by principals on school-community relations activities. However, the key purpose of the section was to ascertain how principals felt about the significance of school-community relations as an aspect of their roles. This is difficult to determine in a written questionnaire. Like other aspects of the principal's role, involvement in community relations tends to be an ideal (much advocated in the literature), and is therefore not likely to be ranked as "unimportant" by a significant number of respondents. In order to operationalize possible differences between the "ideal" and the "real", the section therefore included two questions, one asking principals to estimate the amount of time that the actually spent on matters concerned with school-community relations, and the other asking them to indicate their feelings about the amount of time they should be spending on these activities. Differences between the two, it was assumed, would provide same indication of the significance actually attributed to involvement in community relations.
The results of the two questions are summarized in two tables, the first (Table 14) dealing with the total group of principals, and the second (Table 15) presenting the comparisons between the two groups For the group as a whole (Table 14), the large majority of principals estimated that community relations activities amounted to either a "moderate" amount of time (43.5%) or "quite a bit" of time (36.1%). Only 10.3% estimated that they were spending relatively little time on community relations.
That principals are not merely "putting in time" in the sense of responding to unavoidable demands, but regard community relations as an important aspect of their roles is indicated by the even larger percentage who responded that they should be spending substantial amounts of time on these activities. As summarized in the second column of Table 14, 43.1% of the total group felt that they should be spending quite a bit of tine on community relations, while only 4.4% felt that they should be spending relatively little time.
In the breakdown between the two groups (Table 15), urban principals generally reported higher estimates of time spent on community relations than rural principals. For example, 42.9% reported spending "quite a bit of time" on these activities in comparison with 31.9% of the rural principals. In this same category, however, the difference between the two groups diminished when principals were asked to indicate their feelings about the time that they should be spending an community relations. In comparison with 46.7a of the urban principals, 41.0% of the rural principals responded that they should be spending "quite a bit of time" on these activities.
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Though principals may regard community relations as an important part of their roles, the question arises whether they feel adequately prepared for this responsibility, either in terms of the special skills which might be required, or in terms of the support provided by their school systems. This question was addressed in an open-ended item which asked principals to list any skills or resources which would enable them to deal more effectively with school community relations.
At the top of the list, nearly one-quarter of the comments made by principals dealt with the need for more adequate administrative time in which to undertake and develop community relations activities. Included in these comments were references to the difficulty of prioritizing these activities, given the multitude of other administrative tasks facing principals.
Concerning the skills that principals felt were necessary for effective community relations, 20.6a of the comments referred to communications skills, such as those involved in communicating accurate information about the school to parents, and in listening to and responding to parental concerns. In this connection, a number of principals commented about the problem of rumors developing in the community. Closely related to communication were comments about the need for interpersonal skills such as those involved in working with groups (e.g. knowledge of group dynamics) and in managing conflict-Several principals suggested that these communication and interpersonal skills should be included in workshops dealing with school-community relations.
In the category labeled "personal characteristics", the comments referred to a variety of attributes which were felt to be important in dealing with the public, such as open-mindedness, honesty, patience, friendliness, and diplomacy. (Not all of the examples given were quite so positive in tone. Perhaps facetiously, a few referred to the need for principals to possess rather "Machiavellian" characteristics in order to deal effectively with the public.)
The remaining categories accounted for relatively small percentages of the comments. Those categorized as "knowledge of the community" included comments about the need for principals to be aware of the values and interests represented by individuals and groups in the community served by the school. Similarly, "knowledge of family life and social services" included comments about the need for principals to be aware of the family problems which might be affecting children in school and of the social services which are available for dealing with these problems. In the case of "support from staff, local board, and school system", the comments referred to the need for principals to receive adequate support from other groups and agencies in the school system in order to deal more effectively with school-community relations.
Comments in the last three categories were few in number, but certainly dealt with important issues. With regard to "rule definition", for example, one principal raised the issue of the school's ultimate responsibility for community concerns. Is the school expected to be a kind of all-embracing agency for any and every family and community problem, and, if so, hew can it carry out its educational responsibilities In the "involvement in community" category, the point was made that the principal's personal and active involvement in community affairs provides a central means for establishing effective relationships with the community, particularly in small communities. Finally, a few comments noted that it would be useful for principals to have information about community relations problems and practices in other school systems.
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In recent years there has been a distinctive trend towards the development of parent/citizen associations in school systems in both the United States and Canada. This study is not the place to detail reasons for this trend, but one central reason which can be mentioned concerns the impact on public representation of the very extensive school consolidation movement which has taken place in both countries-Simply stated, the consolidation of smaller school districts into larger administrative units has made it increasingly difficult for school boards to represent and respond to the variety of community interests and demands which are incorporated in such units. Relatedly, additional agencies for the representation of public interests (usually in an advisory capacity) have developed, sometimes on the initiative of school boards, and sometimes as a result of public demand. In addition, there has been a growing realization that any efforts to improve student achievement (particularly among
children from lower income and minority groups) must provide for direct parental involvement if they are to have any hope of success. In the US, for example, this realization has been reflected in the creation of parent advisory groups through the provisions of major school improvement programs such as the federally-funded Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESFA ) and the California School Improvement Program.
Because of their central role in any school-community relations program, parents' associations were dealt with in a separate section of the principals' questionnaire. In this section, principals were asked to provide information about parents' associations in their schools other than local boards of school trustees. (The latter topic applies only to rural principals and is dealt with in the next and final section of the questionnaire data.) The results will be discussed in terms of two sub-topics: Number and Type of Parents' Associations; and, Effectiveness of Parents' Associations.
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Principals were first asked whether their schools had any form of parents' association such as a home and school association. As Table 16 points out, 100 or 37% of the total group of principals reported the existence of a parents' association in their schools. While the results in the Table appear to indicate that parents associations were much more common in the urban schools, it must be kept in mind Of course, that rural schools in Saskatchewan have "built-in" parent associations in the form of local boards of school trustees which are mandated by provincial legislation.
The majority (62%) of the parent associations reported by principals were home and school or parent-teacher associations. Other types of associations included parent advisory councils (also called school advisory councils in same schools); community school councils; community associations; band parent associations; and, parent athletic associations. In addition, a variety of special parent committees were reported by principals, including those dealing with family life education, drug end alcohol education, community use of school facilities, and high school graduation.
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Principals who had parents associations in their schools were asked to estimate the effectiveness of these associations in helping the school to fulfill its responsibilities. The results are summarized in Table 17. In the total group of principals, it is interesting to note that the percentage who responded that their parent associations were "very effective" (27.7%) was quite similar to the combined percentage (28.6%) who judged their associations to be only "slightly effective" or "not effective". However, the breakdown between the two groups indicated a tendency for rural principals to be less satisfied than urban principals with the performance of parent associations in their respective schools. If the "slightly effective" and "not effective" categories are combined, it will be noted that 43.9% of the rural principals responded in this way in comparison with only 18.4% of the urban principals. On the other hand, 31.7% of the urban principals judged their parent associations to be "very effective" in comparison with 22% of the rural principals who responded in this category.
This question was followed by an open-ended item requesting principals to indicate any reasons if they felt that the parent associations in their schools were not effective or only slightly effective.
By far the most frequent reason given was that turnout was poor at association meetings and that the community apparently had little if any interest in association activities. Principals commented, for example, that "only 10-15% of the parents participate", and that the association depended upon a "small nucleus" for survival. As same also noted, this problem existed even though "good programs" had been presented at meetings.
Relatedly, in the second most frequently mentioned category, a number of principals commented that community interest in the parents' association was limited because topics presented at meetings were not directly relevant to educational concerns, or because the association itself was primarily involved in social or recreational activities. Several mentioned, too, that their parents' associations had just started, and that it was too early to judge their effectiveness.
Though relatively few in number, the comments which were made in the remaining categories touch«3 on key issues in the organization and operation of parents' associations. For lay people who may have had little, if any, experience in organizing and running associations, ineffective operational procedures can be a particular problem, leading to the eventual collapse of an association. Examples of ineffective procedures mentioned by principals included inadequate communication with the community; frequent changeover of the association's officers resulting in a lack of continuity; and infrequent meetings (associations must certainly meet on a regular basis if they are to survive). Other basic problems mentioned by principals included confusion about rule and lack of any clear direction in the parents' association. Same principals also felt that the parents' association was not representative of the community, but tended to be determined by a few vocal individuals. Finally, one principal noted that the parents' association was relatively ineffective because the local board of school trustees played the most active role in the school district.
In concluding this section, it should be noted that there is an important omission in the data. Several of the problems referred to above have been well-documented in literature dealing with the operation of parents' associations, and perhaps the finding that should have been the focus of discussion was that a substantial number of principals judged their associations to be operating at a "very effective" level. Because of concern about extending the length of the questionnaire, principals were not asked why they evaluated their associations in this way. However, a number of comments were volunteered both in this section and at the conclusion of the questionnaire, and these comments demonstrated that parents' associations can function very successfully. One principal remarked, for example, that the home and school association was a "very efficient and responsible group" which supported the school fully, and aided in community relationships. Further research is needed to determine the specific reasons for these reported successes.
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In Saskatchewan we have a rather unique "two-tiered" system of public representation in our rural school divisions, consisting not only of elected representatives at the school division level (boards of education), but also of elected representatives at the local school district level (boards of trustees or local school advisory committees in school divisions which are not divided into school districts). Indeed, it is interesting to note that recommendations have been made elsewhere to introduce agencies very similar to our local boards on the grounds that they constitute a "new" approach to the problem of extending citizen representation in consolidated school systems. In particular, current interest in the concept of "school-based management" closely reflects the structure of local school governance that we already have in place in rural Saskatchewan.
As noted at the beginning of this report, however, the role of local boards emerged as a central issue in the conferences which were held in preparation for the study. During the second conference, the group interview with principals from rural school divisions was a particularly useful source of information about local boards. While the group was not completely unanimous about all of the issues discussed, the following points appeared to be generally supported:
Clarifying the role of local boards. If there was a core issue in the group discussion, it was that a more specific framework of policy must be developed for the guidance of local boards. Several references were made to the need for "job descriptions" and for detailed and comprehensive written policy regarding the role of local boards. In the same connection, principals spoke of the need to provide in-service training for trustees.
Appropriate local board activities. This and the following topic produced a considerable amount of discussion which cannot be adequately conveyed here. In general, principals supported a number of activities which are well established in many local boards, such as advising the division board with regard to school maintenance and repair; supervising the use of school facilities by the community; advising the division board with regard to busing; and providing feedback from the community. More controversial was the role that local boards should play (if any) in the educational program of the school. It was pointed out by same principals that local boards can play a particularly useful role in defining needs for the educational program. Comments were also made about the "political" role of local boards. This was certainly not in the sense which is popularly attributed to politics as a "shady" type of activity, but referred, rather, to representing the interests of the school by means of generating community support and of helping the school to obtain necessary resources.
Inappropriate local board activities. This was a controversial topic in the discussion. For example, though the majority of principals appeared to be opposed to any form of local board involvement in the evaluation of professional staff, it was also argued that a degree of involvement in a developing staff problem was unavoidable (particularly in small communities), and that the local board should at least be kept informed of the situation. (Clearly, the assumption in this approach is that the situation is more likely to be kept within same bounds of control as opposed to being subject to the whims of rumor and hearsay.) Less controversial was the undesirability of local boards involving themselves in what might be termed "witch hunting" activities. As one principal defined this term, it refers to a campaign by an individual or group to achieve some narrowly supported aim, generating and using a community audience for the purpose. Such an aim might involve a teacher, a program, or a book. Similarly, reference was made to the problem of trustees pursuing "idiosyncratic interests" in the sense of centering their concerns on the welfare of their own children rather than on the welfare of the total school which they are elected to represent.
The role of the principal in relation to the local board. Finally, there appeared to be general agreement that principals should play an active role in their relationships with local boards. TO use a term previously referred to in this report, this part of the discussion clearly favored a "proactive" style of leadership as opposed to merely allowing local boards to drift, perhaps with unforeseen and unfortunate consequences both for the local board and the school. For this purpose, principals recommended basic strategies such as working closely with the chairperson of the local board; getting trustees actually involved in school activities and projects; and providing local board meetings with regular reports of school activities.
The remainder of this section will review the results of questionnaire items which were developed on the basis of the conferences. The results may be divided into three subtopics: Effectiveness of Local Boards; Influence of Local Boards; and, Activities of Local Boards. Except for the first subtopic which was not included in the trustee's questionnaire, the analysis will include caparisons with the viewpoints of trustees (N = 198).
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Using the same format as the section dealing with parents associations, this question asked principals in rural school divisions (N = 166) to estimate the effectiveness of their local boards in helping the school to fulfill its responsibilities. As Table 18 points out, nearly half of the group judged their boards to be "moderately effective". At the extremes of the scale, 12% responded that their hoards were "very effective", while 10.2% said that they were "not effective".
Again, principals were requested to add reasons if they felt that their boards were not effective or only slightly effective.
Comments in this section as well as in the conclusion of the questionnaire left little doubt that principals regarded lack of authority, particularly in relation to the dominant position of the division hoard, as the central reason for the ineffectiveness of local boards. It was remarked, for example, that the division board insisted on having "total power"; that the local board was almost "totally ignored" by the division board and division office: that "when the crunch comes, the division board does what it wants regardless of the local board"; and that decisions allocated to the local board by the division board were only trivial in nature. A number of principals also pointed out that local boards lacked a basic source of authority in not having "budget access" and same form of "fiscal responsibility". At the same time, concern was expressed about local boards involving themselves in inappropriate activities and roles. These included acting as "watchdogs" in the sense of apparently seeking opportunities to be critical of the school; engaging in "axe-grinding" in pursuing narrow interests (as discussed previously in connection with the group interview with rural principals); contributing to the development of rumors; and, similarly, becoming actively concerned only at times of "crisis" rather than maintaining a steady degree of involvement in school issues and concerns (i.e. as one principal put it, the "crisis interventionist" board). These comments were closely related to comments about the quality of membership on local boards. Same principals felt, for example, that local hoards attracted people who wanted to "throw their weight around". On the other hand, comments were also made about "lack of assertiveness" and "apathy" among board members.
The remaining categories will not be discussed in detail. Same were the same as applied in the section dealing with parents' associations, and included similar comments. For example, in the case of ineffective operating procedures, principals mentioned the problem of infrequent meetings. The need for in-service training was also mentioned in connection with this category and with the concern about unclear role and directions in local boards.
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The issue of the local board's authority in the school system was more directly addressed in two items which asked principals and trustees, first, how much influence they felt local boards currently had on decisions made in the school, and, second, hew much influence they felt local boards should have. As summarized in Table 19, the interesting feature of the results is the close similarity between the responses of principals and trustees with regard to the current influence of local boards. The closeness of these perceptions suggests that a serious communication gap does not exist between the two groups, at least in their assessment of the current operation of local boards. Where a gap does occur is with respect to the amount of influence that local boards should exercise. Thus, the large majority of trustees (74.2%) responded that boards should have "considerable influence", while the proportion of principals who answered in this category (22.3%) changed little from the previous question concerning current influence. Nevertheless, the overall pattern of these results demonstrates a substantial degree of agreement between the two groups. The large majority of principals (over 80%) felt that local boards should have either considerable influence or moderate influence on decisions made in the school.
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What are appropriate areas of activity for local boards? This is a fundamental issue in the operation of any agency which represents the interests of citizens in policymaking, particularly in a situation where the agency occupies an intermediary position between local communities and a central policymaking board such as a board of education. In order to address this issue, the final items in this section asked principals and trustees to indicate the degree to which they felt local boards were currently involved in nine types of activities, and the degree to which they felt local boards should be involved in each type of activity. As listed below, the activities were based upon the Education Act, Sections 136 to 142, and upon analysis of the minutes of local board meetings in a number of school divisions.
(1) Selection of teachers for the school-e.g. Interviewing teachers who are applying for a position in the school.
(2) School busing. Dealing with problems concerning bus schedules and routes.
(3) The educational program in the school. Discussing the curriculum (subjects) taught in the school and methods of teaching the curriculum; reviewing new programs introduced in the curriculum.
(4) Maintenance and repair of school facilities and equipment .g. Making recommendations to the Board of Education about the need for repairs in the school or the need for purchasing new equipment.
(5) Getting to know the teachers in the school - e.g. Arranging social occasions for teachers and trustees; inviting teachers to attend Local Board meetings.
(6) Community use of school facilities - e.g. Reviewing requests by individuals or groups in the community for the use of school facilities, and recommending whether or not permission should be given to use facilities.
(7) Providing communication between the school and community - e.g. Providing community members with information about school activities and events.
(8) Providing communication between the community and school - e.g. Providing the school with information about parent concerns.
(9) Student activities - e.g. Discussing matters concerning students in the school, including discipline, health and safety, and student recreational and social activities.
As perceived by principals and trustees, the current levels of local board involvement in the various types of activities are summarized in Table 21. The mean scores in the table are based upon the responses of the two groups to a five point scale, ranging from "never" to "always". As illustrated by the graphic representation of the results, the mean scores of trustees were generally higher than those of principals, with the exception of "teacher selection" and "school busing". It can only be speculated why this difference occurred. Perhaps trustees tend to attribute higher degrees of involvement to local boards because they are more directly associated with them.
Both groups perceived relatively high levels of local board involvement in school maintenance activities. On the other hand, both perceived low levels of involvement in the educational program and in getting to know the teachers in the school. Rather surprisingly, local board involvement in providing communication between the school and the community was also seen to be at a relatively low level, particularly by principals. This has been a standard rule of citizens groups in the schools.
For the future of local boards of school trustees, the more important question concerns the degree of involvement that principals and trustees would prefer local boards to have. These results are summarized in Table 22. First, it should be noted that both groups responded that local boards should be involved in all types of activities to a greater degree than at present. (It may be of interest to note that within each group the differences between the "is involved" and "should be involved" scores were significant for all types of activities at below the .01 level.) The implication is that there is a fundamental basis of agreement between principals and trustees in the direction of an enhanced role for local boards.
As might be expected, however, there were differences in the degree of involvement desired by the two groups, with trustees generally desiring higher degrees than principals. Differences were particularly evident in activities concerning the educational program; community use of school facilities; and student activities. Further research would be required to account for these differences. In the case of educational program activities, many surveys in school systems have shown that this is a particularly controversial area for the involvement of lay citizens. For obvious reasons, educators tend to regard curricular and instructional matters as a professional preserve, requiring professional expertise. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that citizens are strongly concerned with "controlling" the curriculum or with directing how teachers should teach. Rather, the type of involvement that appears to be desired is informational in the sense of schools keeping parents informed of changes and developments in the curriculum and in teaching methods. It might also be noted that there is a growing interest among educators and parents in the role that parents can play as "educational partners", encouraging their children to learn, and assisting than in learning activities designed and supervised by teachers. In recent years the schools have undergone many "innovations" intended to improve the educational opportunities and achievement of children, but it is unlikely that any of these efforts will ever succeed without the collaboration, support, and assistance of the home.
Principals and trustees were finally asked to list any activities which were not included in the nine types of activities, and which they felt should or should not be included in the role of local boards. The results will not be reviewed in detail because many of the comments reflected on the nine types of activities or on concerns expressed in others parts of the questionnaire. In the case of activities which should be included in the role of local boards, for example, the largest percentage of trustee comments (35 or 38a of a total of 92 comments) referred to the need for local boards to play a more active role in decision-making in the school system, particularly in relation to the authority delegated to local boards by the Board of Education. Results of this study have made it very clear that this is a central issue in the role of local boards, particularly as seen by trustees themselves. On the other hand, the comments of principals in this section largely dealt with the role that local boards can play in supporting and assisting the school. Out of a total of 56 comments, 29 or 52% referred to supportive activities such as helping the school to obtain resources and promoting supportive attitudes in the community.
With regard to activities which should not be included in the role of local boards, the comments of principals (19 or 50% out of a total of 38 comments) mainly referred to areas which might be regarded as professional prerogatives, including supervision and evaluation of professional personnel; classroom management; and "day - to-day operation" of the school. In addition, 21a of the comments referred to the previously discussed "watchdog" rule that some local boards and individual trustees might attempt to exercise. This clearly reflects the concern noted above that local boards should function mainly as a source of support for the school. Neither in this or any other section of the trustees' questionnaire, however, was there evidence that trustees as a group have any interest in spending their time carping about the school or evaluating personnel in a negative manner. On the contrary, a number of trustees spoke of the need to avoid negative communication, rumors, and involvement in areas which are properly professional concerns.
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Based on the findings of the study, these concluding remarks will briefly discuss a number of central issues. In addition, recommendations will be made for further study.
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Though principals perceived a relatively high level of parental interest in school activities, their estimates of parental understanding of professional tasks and responsibilities were considerably lower, particularly in the case of rural principals. In discussing this finding, it was suggested that apparent lack of public understanding (sometimes abetted by highly simplistic media reports of "failure" in the schools) constitutes a central source of frustration and antagonism in school-community relationships.
How do we cultivate public understanding and appreciation of the tasks, responsibilities, and achievements of teachers and principals While there are certainly no simple solutions or "panaceas" available, it is very clear that we cannot do so by excluding the public from opportunities for directly observing and experiencing the work of the school. One such opportunity is provided by parent volunteer programs. As well as contributing Special Skills and valuable assistance (particularly at a time of declining resources in the schools), parent volunteers provide a "core" of community support for the School. However, the results of this study indicated substantial neglect of this critical resource.
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Saying anything to principals about the need for proactive as opposed to reactive leadership in school-community relations is probably quite unnecessary. Certainly, the great majority of principals are fully aware that community concerns don't "go away" simply because they are ignored, but rather tend to escalate. Such escalation ultimately forces a reactive, and therefore ineffective, conflict management style on the part of those who do the ignoring. However, it may be worth reiterating two points made in previous discussion.
The first concerns apparent public "apathy". As noted in the discussion of the Gallup Poll question regarding public attitudes towards involvement in educational decisions (pp. 19-20), it may be a frustrating experience for educators to be confronted on the one hand with public demands for more "say" in the running of the schools, but on the other with the "evidence of their own eyes" that many parents and other citizens do not make use of the opportunities which already exist for this purpose. This is not the place to discuss possible reasons for this phenomenon (a very large political science literature deals with the issue of non-participation), but the point can be emphatically made that "apathy" is a glib, misleading, and possibly hazardous explanation. For one thing, we need to ask ourselves whether apathy isn't a manifestation of alienation, deriving from numerous unsuccessful attempts to have any say in educational affairs. As many school systems know to their regret, the prevalence of a "what's-the-use" attitude in the community can contribute an explosive element to the development of conflict, with alienated individuals and groups tending to drift to any incident offering a potential outlet for their frustrations.
Clearly, school administrators who proceed on the assumption that the community will remain permanently quiescent, regardless of the nature of the issues confronting it, may be in for the proverbial "rude awakening". It may therefore be helpful to keep in mind the conceptual distinction between routine and strategic issues: the former referring to issues which community members are quite willing to leave in the hands of school authorities because they recognize the need for specialized expertise in resolving the issue and because they are not emotionally involved in its outcome; and the latter referring to issues which have a direct emotional impact on the community, and which therefore require provisions for community involvement- Problems arise, of course, when strategic issues are treated as though they were routine, o~, indeed, when efforts are made (perhaps on grounds of behaving "democratically") to involve people in issues which they regard as part of the routine responsibilities of professionals who are "paid to do the job". As to the kinds of issues which fall into these conceptual categories, no preconceived list is possible. Rather, this kind of knowledge comes from the school administrator's efforts to analyze and understand the particular community served by the school.
This latter consideration leads to the second point associated with a proactive style of leadership. In introducing the section which dealt with school-community contacts, it was argued that the myriad of contacts which occur on a daily basis between school and home (notably via the students) constitute a program of school- community relations, at least a program "of sorts". In other words, if there is a choice to be made, it is whether to develop the program on a planned and systematic basis (i.e. proactively), or whether to let it merely "happen" (i.e. reactively). If the proactive mute is preferred, then one fundamental requirement is knowledge and understanding of the community.
Does a "planned, systematic" approach to school-community relations necessarily entail highly elaborate and extensive planning and implementation of school-community activities? Though an elaborate approach might be the ideal, any such recommendation is not likely to be appreciated by principals who have little if any administrative time to spend in this way. However, keeping in mind that any contact between the home and school is relevant, significant, and cumulative--whether it be a parent/teacher conference, a report card, a 'phone call, a school concert, or a "drop in" visit to the school--principals can exercise leadership in shaping the nature of relationships between the school and community.
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It has not been possible in this report to discuss in detail the skills and resources which are required to plan and implement an effective program of school-community relations. For example, in the case of parent volunteer programs, a large literature is available reflecting experiences in school systems across the country.
Similarly, a large literature is available concerning the experience of other school systems in organizing and operating parents' associations. Indeed, this is a field where school systems can learn a great deal from one another, and where it really isn't necessary to proceed on a trial-and-error basis.
This is not to say that programs originating elsewhere can be applied intact to any school-community situation, without recognizing and adapting to the unique features of individual communities. It has already been stressed that leadership in this field requires skill in analyzing and understanding the particular community served by the school. Other relevant skills mentioned by principals in the study included: communication skills, such as those involved in communicating accurate information about the school to parents, and in listening to and responding to parental concerns; and interpersonal skills, such as those involved in working with groups and in managing conflict. The point is that the principal's role in school-community relations must be specifically recognized and provided for in pre-service and in-service preparation for the principalship.
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Evidence of a fundamental basis of agreement between principals and trustees was the outstanding feature of this part of the study, at least in the sense that both supported the same directions for local boards, if not the same degrees of involvement in various activities. These directions included an enhanced role for local boards in the school system, and an essentially supportive role in relation to local schools (as opposed, for example, to "axe-grinding" or "watchdog" kinds of activities).
This is certainly not to conclude that non-supportive, negative kinds of attitudes and activities are completely non-existent among trustees, or that some trustees are not on what might be termed a "power trip", but the danger is that the attitudes of a few will be generalized to the whole. The overwhelming evidence of this study is that trustees are mainly interested in a supportive role. The one area of complaint which did stand out strongly concerns the feeling of many trustees (and also of a substantial number of principals) that local boards are really powerless. If this is the case in same school systems, then it may be argued that powerlessness serves in itself as a source of negativism, since people who are involved in a manner which is meaningless both to themselves and to the school are likely to react in negative ways.
These comments may be summarized by simply saying that there is an "exchange" entailed in the role of local boards. If they are expected to function in supportive ways, then they must be given meaningful tasks. Professional educators would expect nothing less for themselves.
With regard to the issue of clarifying and defining the authority of the local board in relation to the central authority of the hoard of education, there is certainly a need (as principals pointed out in group interviews) for the establishment of explicit, written policy. At the same time, a political dimension must be recognized in the ultimate accommodation which is worked out between local and division boards. This accommodation depends to a large degree upon the local board's success in establishing a local constituency. For this purpose, regular communication with the local community is clearly essential. (It will be recalled that principals perceived a relatively law level of local board involvement in providing communication between the school and the community.) Bluntly stated, the point is that if local boards wait to have authority conferred upon them, they may wait for a very long time: rather, they must have a basis of local support for negotiating their authority in the school system.
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Two areas for further study will be briefly discussed in this final section- School-Community Relations in Rural School Systems; and, Successful Examples of School-Community Relations.
This focus on rural schools is not intended to ignore the data provided by urban principals or to suggest that no further attention needs to be given to school-community relations in urban schools. However, a number of distinctive differences occurred in the responses of rural and urban principals, and while these differences may be attributable to underlying factors such as school size, grade level of school, and administrative time, they suggest the particular need for further study of school-community relations in rural school settings. Same of these differences were mentioned above; for example, the differing perceptions that the two groups had of parental understanding of professional responsibilities calls for follow-up investigation (43.4% of the rural principals thought understanding was "slight" in comparison with 15.2% of the non-rural principals).
This recommendation for further study is also made in the context of the rather idealized picture that the rural education literature has given of school-community relations in rural schools. Presumably, the rural school is truly a "community school", providing the community with much mare than just educational services, and often serving generations of the same families. That this image has a basis in fact is demonstrated by the intensely emotional reaction which can occur when rural communities are threatened with the closure of their schools owing to enrollment decline. Nevertheless, it is of no benefit to rural education to take this image for granted. Further attention should be given to the particular conditions and needs of school-community relations in rural schools.
In studies of this nature, the tendency is to dwell upon apparent needs for improvement, to the exclusion of examples of successful practice. This point was illustrated by the section dealing with parents' associations, and certainly applies as well to local boards of school trustees. The fact is that substantial numbers of principals reported that these organizations were operating very effectively in their schools. How do principals define "effectiveness" in school-community relations programs and practices? What particular strategies and procedures are applied by principals in these successful examples. Clearly, we need to take full advantage of the successful leadership which principals are already exercising in this field.
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