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Lawmaker: Boost teaching requirement for public school principals

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PHOENIX – Requiring principals to have at least five years of experience in the classroom would enable them to better help teachers solve problems and enhance the effectiveness of Arizona’s public schools, a state lawmaker contends.

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said he introduced legislation carrying that requirement after three teachers in his district told him that some principals with less experience didn’t sufficiently understand what happens in classrooms.

“I’m very supportive on whatever I can do to assist the teachers in their battle toward providing education to our kids,” he said.

HB 2009, introduced for consideration during the 2012 legislative session, would prohibit a school district’s governing board from hiring a principal with less than five years of classroom experience.

Current Arizona State Board of Education rules require principals to have at least three years of full-time teaching experience, but Fillmore said his discussions with teachers, principals and superintendents across the state suggested that increasing the requirement would help.

“They need more experience to better understand what the teacher feels with certain situations,” he said.

Vince Yanez, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Education, said the board wasn’t aware of Fillmore’s bill and would need to meet with him to understand his goal.

“The board obviously has an interest in ensuring principals are instructive leaders, and to do that they need to have has some experience in the classrooms,” he said.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said this issue is best addressed by the Board of Education since that group is comprised of education experts appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

“They are a little closer to the issues and needs of our districts than one could reasonably suspect 90 legislators to be,” he said.

However, Morrill said he supports classroom experience for principals because teachers often seek advice from them.

“We want principals who know what it’s like to instruct classrooms,” he said.

Suzanne Painter, associate professor of educational leadership at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said while classroom experience is invaluable for a principal a five-year requirement could discourage the young teachers with leadership potential.

“We know that they are ready and able to make policy changes,” she said. “I would hate to see them discouraged to apply for a principal position.”

Painter said five years isn’t a “magic number” and noted that there isn’t a study to suggest that three years isn’t enough experience to become a principal.

However, Fillmore said increasing principals’ experience in the classroom would enhance education for Arizona’s children.

“I’m trying to do as much as I can for the kids in this state,” he said.