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Report | North Carolina’s transformative approach to principal preparation

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BEST NC is excited to announce a new report on North Carolina’s unique principal recruitment and preparation initiative — The New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program: Navigating North Carolina’s Bold School Leadership Strategy. This report documents how the New North Carolina Principal Fellows Program (New NCPFP) is improving principal preparation and principal quality in North Carolina.

The report provides educators, education leaders, and policymakers with an overview of the history of the New NCPFP, its impact on the principal pipeline in North Carolina, and makes recommendations to fortify the strengths of the program while extending and enhancing the program through targeted policy and leadership solutions.

You can access the full report and executive summary on BEST NC’s Principal Fellows landing page. You can also find key insights from the report below. We hope you will share this your network!

Why principals?

The principal holds the highest leadership position in a school, setting the vision for the staff and students, establishing an effective organizational culture, providing instructional leadership throughout the building, hiring and managing an average of 50 direct reports, managing a multi-million organization, and much more.

Given the breadth and depth of the principal’s responsibilities, research unsurprisingly identifies the principal as one of the most important school-based factors impacting student achievement — second only to classroom teachers.

Students attending a school with an above average principal (at the 75th percentile of effectiveness) gain the equivalent of 2.9 additional months of learning in math per year and 2.7 additional months of learning in reading per year compared to students attending a school with a below average principal (at the 25th percentile of effectiveness).

Effective principals do more than improve student achievement; they also increase the retention of effective teachers and diminish chronic absenteeism among students, each of which are positively correlated with student academic and behavioral outcomes.


For these reasons, BEST NC has prioritized strong school leadership since its founding.

From TP3 to the New NCPFP: Reimagining principal preparation in North Carolina

Decades ago in the United States, principals were viewed primarily as supervisors, responsible for ensuring student and teacher compliance with school policies and procedures. This has not been true for some time, as education shifts of the past half-century have placed increasing demands on the principal and transformed the role from supervisor to visionary change leader.

Recognizing the need to more closely align principal preparation with best practices in leadership, BEST NC worked successfully with state lawmakers in 2015 to create and provide seed funding for a new approach to principal preparation. The initiative was known as, “Transforming Principal Preparation,” or TP3.

TP3 utilized a competitive grants process to incentivize the adoption of key research-based components of successful principal preparation, including:

In 2019, TP3 was merged with the original NC Principal Fellows Program, North Carolina’s long-running principal scholarship program. The consolidation of the two programs occurred over two years and allowed the state to reduce administrative redundancies and to apply best practices from each model into one cohesive principal preparation program.

The combined program assumed the Principal Fellows name and its commission-based governance, while retaining the competitive grant structure, university-district partnerships, and rigorous candidate selection and training of TP3, as well as pooling the funds from both program. Key structural components of the combined program can be seen below.

The Impact of the New NCPFP

TP3 and New NCPFP grantees utilize best practices in principal preparation (see “Best Practices in Principal Preparation Programs on page 5 of the full report) to recruit, prepare, and support high-quality principal candidates that graduate ready to lead schools that improve student learning outcomes.

Since the first cohort of TP3 graduates in 2018, 467 highly qualified principal candidates have completed their preparation and entered the principal pipeline in North Carolina.  

At current funding levels, the New NCPFP can produce 40% of the principals needed annually in North Carolina.


While the ultimate goal is to measure the success of the New NCPFP based on the ability of graduates to positively impact student performance, the most compelling evidence of the effectiveness of New NCPFP programs thus far is the consistency with which graduates are hired into school leadership positions — a direct result of a more highly-qualified candidate pool and more thorough, research-based principal preparation in New NCPFP programs.

Focusing on the most recent graduates, New NCPFP candidates were almost three times more likely to move directly into a school leadership position compared with graduates of other principal preparation programs.

Additionally, compared to candidates in other UNC-System principal preparation programs, New NCPFP candidates had higher average North Carolina Educator Evaluation System (NCEES) scores and were more likely to be National Board Certified. Research has found that National Board Certified Teachers are more effective, as measured by student growth scores, than teachers who are not certified.

Recommendations and next steps

BEST NC’s new Principal Fellows report provides recommendations to fortify the strengths of the current program while enhancing and expanding the program in pursuit of the goal of North Carolina having the most highly qualified principal workforce in the nation.

See page 22 in the report to read the full list of recommendations.

Final thoughts

As the role of the principal has become increasingly complex over the past half-century, the connection between effective school leadership and student success has become abundantly clear. North Carolina’s innovative approach to school leadership development, beginning in 2015 with TP3 and continuing today with the New NCPFP, has positioned our state as a national leader in the recruitment and preparation of excellent principals.

Data reveal that New NCPFP graduates are the most highly qualified, thoroughly vetted, and rigorously prepared school leaders entering the principal pipeline in North Carolina. Owing to a competitive grants approach that prioritizes programs implementing best practices in principal preparation, the New NCPFP has graduated principal candidates who are taking on school leadership roles at rates well beyond other principal preparation programs in our state and across the nation.

With continued investment, key policy advancements, and strategic program leadership, within 10 years, the New NCPFP can graduate 70% of all principals needed each year.

North Carolina is well on its way to having the best principal workforce in the nation!

Brenda Berg

Brenda Berg is the president & CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in NC). She has over thirty years of experience as a business owner and public policy professional, including education policy research and in the education office of the U.S. Senate Labor & Human Resources Committee (now HELP). Her two children attended North Carolina public schools.