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Assistant Professors Michael Little and Timothy Drake Aim to Enhance Pre-K Through 3rd Grade Principal Practice with Grant-funded Project

A principal with students at a public school in North Carolina.

Research shows that principals can have a significant impact on academic outcomes for students. For this reason, NC State College of Education Assistant Professors Michael Little and Timothy Drake are engaging in work to better understand the ways effective leaders support early grade learning in order to inform the training and development of current and future school leaders. 

Through a one-year, $75,000 grant-funded project entitled “Enhancing Pre-K-3rd Grade Principal Practice in North Carolina,” Little and Drake will survey elementary school principals across the state to capture the extent to which current practices are aligned with new standards for effective Pre-K through third grade leadership

Little and Drake will work in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other organizations. The goal of the project is to spur action on strategies that will enhance Pre-K through third grade education statewide. 

Little and Drake said that while research shows the critical importance of early education for life success, as well as the significant role principals play in shaping a school culture that supports student success and development, little is known about how these factors overlap. 

“Very little is known about the nexus of these two research strands. That is, we don’t know a lot about how principals can most effectively support the Pre-K to third grade educational continuum,” Little said. 

Improving principal practice that supports Pre-K to third grade students and teachers is becoming increasingly important as more than 50% of elementary schools nationwide currently have a Pre-K program in the building. However, fewer than half of all elementary school principals in North Carolina have taken a course in child development or early childhood education, Little and Drake said. 

Results from this project will allow researchers to target areas in which elementary school leaders need the most support in order to develop interventions and supports to help improve their practice related to Pre-K through third grade education. 

“As Pre-K and the early grades continue to become a focus of educational reforms, it will be critical to narrow the gap between principals’ current preparation and practices and what is needed for them to ensure the success of these reforms,” Drake said. “Our project sets the groundwork for advancing this work in North Carolina.”