B-A’s principals buck national trends
October 30, 2022
To be a basketball coach was Dr. Terri Harpster’s dream profession, and as one of the most successful girls coaches in Bellwood-Antis history, she might have had opportunities to see how far she could take it in the early 1990s, yet a career change outside of education was never a consideration.
Dr. Harpster, who retired from B-A in 2021, was the Myers Elementary School principal for eighteen years, and she believes that “education is a fulfilling and virtuous profession,” which may explain why she never left the profession. Nevertheless, principals nationwide are starting to feel otherwise.
School leaders across the country are considering career changes due to extreme levels of stress and wavering mental and emotional health.
FACTORS BEHIND THE FIGURES
Statistics from the National Association of Secondary School Principals survey say that only 2% of school leaders are planning to never leave their current role while 98% will leave in the time frame of the next year to ten years.
To keep these leaders in their profession, 28% of them say that a better work-life balance would be most likely to make them stay, while another reason is needing a higher salary, which 21% of the survey takers agree with.
I am blessed with the opportunity to be in a place like Bellwood-Antis and am looking forward to many more years of making a positive impact on the community that I am grateful to call ‘home.
— Myers Principal Stinson
The NASSP survey reached more than one thousand principals and vice principals over the month of June 2022.
However, even though one in two principals are considering career changes, the three principals at Bellwood-Antis are not planning to be a part of those statistics. They can, though, relate to the stress contributing to such alarming numbers.
Dr. Donald Wagner, Bellwood’s middle school principal, thinks the statistics are what they are because principals never truly “clock out.”
“The job of a school principal, is without question, stressful. Principals are generally responsible for it all – supervision of staff and students, athletics, food service, transportation, curriculum and so on. Over time, some get worn down by it all and the sense of overwhelming responsibility leads to health issues and professional unhappiness,” he said.
B-A’s high school principal, Mr. Richard Schreier, agrees that at times the workload can be overwhelming. COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines have also created major obstacles that those in leadership positions have to overcome.
“The stressors of the job vary from day to day and year to year,” Mr. Schreier said. “I am fortunate to work in a great district with a supportive community and leadership at the top.”
Dr. Harpster feels similarly, noting that outside factors stressing both administrators and teachers are beginning to affect schools’ ability to hire prospective educators.
“Principals end up in the middle of all these political and deeply rooted, emotional issues. Add that to the already long list of stressors of the job and it becomes overwhelming. Like other service professionals such as police and health care, people are feeling unappreciated and underpaid. I am deeply concerned about the future of public education and the growing shortage of teachers and administrators,” she said.
WOULD THEY GO?
Mr. Schreier said he has not seriously considered a career change since moving to his principal position in 2014.
“In the end this is where I am meant to be. I think most people think about dream jobs and wonder about what could have been, but I do not intend to leave the principalship anytime soon,” he said.
Dr. Harpster said at one time she considered a teaching position at the university level, but that job wasn’t her destiny. Instead, she felt playing her part as a principal allowed her to make an impact and be influential in students’ lives.
“My most important role as principal was the selection and continued development of teachers in every classroom. I had the privilege of working with exceptional teachers who loved children and teaching. In this way, my role as principal was important and fulfilling,” Dr. Harpster said.
Although Dr. Wagner has also considered a career change, he doesn’t think it was anything more than wishful thinking.
He suspects the “one of two school principals considering changing careers “are engaging in wishful thinking, too” because of the financial implications such a change would bring about. Most principals have been involved in education for decades and their pay reflects that.
Jumping to a new career track after investing an abundance of time in the education field would be a “significant financial setback,” Dr. Wagner said.
“The reality is that most aren’t in a position to make that kind of decision, so I don’t anticipate a wave of principals leaving the profession any time soon,” Dr. Wagner said.
COUNT YOUR BELSSINGS AND LEAN ON YOUR SUPPORTERS
Myers principal Mr. Matthew Stinson said the key to avoiding burnout is finding a balance between work and home, which isn’t always easy. During his early years in administration, Mr. Stinson said he was “totally consumed by work and didn’t feel like [he] was able to find a good balance of work and being present at home to enjoy [his] family and other activities outside of the school.”
While he understands completely, why administrators are deciding to retire early or find another profession, Mr. Stinson said he has a cheerleader, rock, and support system all in one: his wife, Mrs. Ali Stinson. Mrs. Stinson works at Bellwood as a math teacher, Renaissance Club advisor, and Yearbook advisor.
“She keeps me focused and is always there to listen and help me. Family is everything,” Mr. Stinson said.
Though a glance at the data could make staff, students, and parents question the longevity of Bellwood’s current leadership, unease is nonexistent with these leaders who are devoted to the brick and mortar buildings on Martin Street that are filled with students every morning.
Mr. Schreier said he is thankful for the Bellwood students and staff that surround him every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.