The critical roles played by school principals are apparent to most in the education community. A plan by the West Virginia Board of Education to look into how principals affect the quality of education is long overdue.
Too often, principals are seen not as education leaders but as building managers and troubleshooters. They ensure the doors are open in the morning, heating systems are working, and that if a teacher has a discipline problem, it is taken care of appropriately.
But study after study, including some research right here in West Virginia, backs up the role of school principals as education leaders and coaches for teachers.
An organization called Imagine West Virginia is involved in reconsidering the role of principals. Its executive director, Jack Bowman, already has made recommendations.
Bowman's most critical suggestion is that school officials ensure principals have time to serve as education leaders and coaches. He noted that some principals devote only about one-fifth of their time to such tasks because they have building management work that demands attention.
Bowman is right - but that does not necessarily mean setting up a whole new layer of school administration to handle principals' non-educational tasks. Surely some way of freeing up more time for the principals - dare we suggest eliminating some of the red tape entirely? - can be found.
But state board as well as county school officials should pay close attention to the quality of school principals, too. It is no secret that some simply are not qualified or inclined to be the kinds of coaches teachers need to improve.
Also important to consider is training new generations of effective principals. Incentives for proven classroom teachers to go into administration should be retained, or even increased. Too many have decided they do not want the headaches of managing an education institution and, again, some of that goes back to the red tape.
State board members are right to be looking at the issue of school principals. No other position has the potential to improve a school more - or to allow it to slide into a cesspool of mediocrity.