2 - 1 = ? | Where Do Assistant Principals Fit Into the Equation?

Patrick Vincent, Elementary Grade-Level Leadership Committee Chair and Principal, Union Gap School, Union Gap School District
Mar 07, 2024

2 minus 1 equals question mark written in one chalk on a blackboard

Management math attempts to make complex scenarios simple. For instance:

  • The two-pizza rule: “Every meeting should be small enough that attendees could be fed with two large pizzas.”

  • EBITA: Earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization… or a measure of a company’s real performance, or “bull-honkey” according to Charlie Munger.

  • C-suite number of direct reports: According to Harvard Business Review, a ghastly number of ten.

Before working in education, I worked in the private sector as an HR manager for aerospace manufacturing firms in Los Angeles. My time on the other side of the wall (the office versus the shop) gave me plenty of time to evaluate the efficient operations of machines, people, and processes. It was the latter that I find most interesting now.

Machines can only go so fast. Humans can only work so long without making mistakes. But processes can always be optimized. The production team would always cringe when they had to expedite a part to the supplier. Even though the part would arrive at the assembly line on time, it would eat into every bit of planned profit. Processes then became areas of study and analysis. If people and spindle speed (or machine speed) were constants, then what could be done to make the process more efficient? This is why businesses provide ample research on organizational structures, team composition, and process optimization. Toyota was historically famous for its process engineering, which led to continuous improvement activities in the early 20th century. Business understands people’s capacity has a ceiling, so they search for efficiencies in processes. 

Which brings me to the funny math of school management.

Many districts, faced with an irreconcilable budget deficit, have had to make the tough decision to cut people and programs, and sometimes assistant principals. I spoke with a local principal who was notified his 400-student school will no longer have an assistant principal for the 2024–25 school year. Allow me to do some math.

  • This one principal will need to supervise 30 classroom teachers, five office staff, and about 15 classified staff.

  • This one principal will be the sole disciplinarian for 400 students.

  • This one principal will direct school improvement activities.

  • This one principal will evaluate all teachers and staff.

  • This one principal will be the only authority that can field public questions or inquiries.

  • This one principal will solely direct the professional development of new teachers, seasoned teachers, and paraprofessionals.

  • This one principal will be the sole budget authority for the school’s expenditure.

  • This one principal will be the only personnel called out in board policies that require grievances or concerns relating to the education of the school’s students, as well as the orderly operation of public service in its community.

How is it that business math and public education math have such wildly different expectations for running workplaces? It seems to me that the answer to the above algorithm is “crazy."

I admit the budget shortfalls many districts are facing are challenging. However, I have one bit of advice to anyone in positional authority over a district's budget: if you cut an assistant principal from a school, then relocate a district office staff person to that same school — there will already be an office ready to house an educational leader. The math might be tough, but the solution is easy.

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