Working with school principals where there are none: strengthening school principals in rural Guatemala

Abstract

 Presenter (s) Fernando Rubio, Juárez and Associates; Lucía Morales, Juárez and Associates, Sophia Maldonado, Juárez and Associates

This presentation will expose the results of the implementation of two actions aimed at strengthening elementary school principals in Guatemala. The first was developed by EDUCAMOS, a USDA funded program focused on improving students’ nutrition and bilingual reading outcomes and directed to principals from 294 Huehuetenango schools. The second was developed by the Lifelong Learning Project from USAID focused on quality education and improvement of students’ reading and directed to 130 principals from five departments of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. These projects are being implemented within the context that the migration crisis entails. The Western Highlands are the main source of irregular migrants to the US, including minors. Thirty-eight of the top forty municipalities with the highest rate of returnees are in this region. For returned unaccompanied minors, all but one of the top forty municipalities are also located in this area. Whereas the Guatemalan national average rate of returnees is 309 per 100,000 inhabitants, in the first semester of 2019 returnees’ rates ranged from 678 per 100,000 to 1.804 per 100,000 for these municipalities (IOM, 2019a). As for minors, the returnee’s national rate is 27 for every 100,000 minors, but in these municipalities, it ranges from 73 to 315 per 100,000 minors(IOM, 2019b).

International evidence indicates that the school principal is a key actor and has a critical role that influences school effectiveness for educational quality and student learning (Leithwood, K. & Montgomery, D. 1984 and Mullins et al., 2019). School principals may influence student performance if they foster and develop positive environments for teachers, promote communication, provide support and supervision, and motivate and encourage teacher’s abilities. This affects teachers’ performance in the classroom, which would imply improvements in student performance (Freire, S. & Miranda, A. 2014).

However, in Guatemala, there is no school principal’s career for public preprimary and primary schools. All teachers are appointed as teachers and as school principals. No previous preparation or experience is required for this position; school principals don’t receive an additional salary for the technical and administrative functions that the role requires. Further, he or she can also be a teacher of one, more, or all grades of a school. Finally, this position can rotate from one year to the next in each school.

We will present the results of the implementation of two actions aimed at strengthening school principals in Guatemala. Each experience was based on school principals’ needs assessment, according to the geographical area, context and reality in which they work, including their administrative and pedagogical tasks and the obstacles they face for school improvements. To conduct these needs assessments, we use questionnaires, key informant interviews with departmental education authorities, and instruments to weight and to prioritize school principals’ responsibilities. Based on results from these assessments, methodological proposals, support materials and in-service training for school training were designed. Also considered were resources and available time. Thus, each strengthening program responded to the particulars and challenges associated with the main objectives of each program, one more linked to health and nutrition, the other more linked to literacy in the early grades.

In addition, we will present the results of a pre and post evaluation that allowed to know the mastery of basic concepts and normative regulations, as to assess changes in school principals’ beliefs before and after the training. We will also expose the similarities and differences between the programs, challenges, and lessons learned. The experience gained from these two projects and their results can contribute and serve as a reference in the design and implementation of programs and strategies aimed at strengthening the capacities and competencies of Guatemalan school principals, inform intervention in contexts similar to Guatemala. The resources developed may serve to strengthen the knowledge and competencies of principals as leaders and school managers in different countries.

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