Strike a Balance in Transfer Policies

May 02, 1994

The Howard County school system is moving into a potentially perilous period over the issue of principal and teacher transfers.

A committee charged with recommending policies that would govern the involuntary transfer of teachers and administrators has proposed numerous restrictions on school officials in the way they must handle such matters. A heavy dose of skepticism needs to be applied by Board of Education members as they consider these changes.

It is not that the policy changes are bad on the surface. They would require that principals work with teachers on problems that might lead to a transfer, and notify teachers of a pending transfer months in advance. Principals would also receive advance notice of a transfer, and school officials would never transfer the entire administrative staff of a school during the same year.

Although a particular case may demand more leeway, in general these guidelines appear reasonable and should remove the suspicion that transfers are capricious or for punitive reasons.

These proposals follow an unprecedented move last year when Superintendent Michael E. Hickey involuntarily transferred 60 teachers and principals at once, igniting a firestorm of controversy. Parents of Mount Hebron High School were particularly angered over the transfer of the school's principal and vice principals. Those parents, along with most principals and teachers, should find the proposed changes reassuring.

There is already considerable evidence that principals often fail to document teachers' shortcomings or to deal directly with those staff members who need direction. That situation must be corrected.

Nevertheless, school board members must move with caution. Managers can't have their hands tied by new policies. In addition, a provision that would require the central office to notify a school's Parent-Teacher Association before transferring an administrator is fraught with problems. The decision to transfer or not transfer a principal should be based on professional concerns, not on political pressure from a school community.

If the guidelines are to work, they must be constructed in such a way as to facilitate improvements to the system's schools. They must not become a tool to hamper necessary change.

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