There's an old saying that "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s--t." I pull out that time honoured chestnut because it was what came to mind after listening to a recent conversation between some admins.
A question was posed to a more experienced admin about why a district's leadership doesn't often take the step of getting rid of an ineffective principal. After all, those in administration don't have protection in the same way teachers might through their unions: contracts are a year-by-year affair. On the surface, it seems simple enough for a district to tell a consistently underperforming principal "buh-bye."
The answer to this question was two-fold. One part was simply avoiding the embarrassment of admitting that the district made a poor hiring decision. (Although another person in the conversation pointed out that with a district's central office administration regularly turning over, there should be less of that sense---after all, they didn't do the hiring.) The main crux of the response, however, is that education is a "helping profession." We are not programmed as educators to view anyone as a lost cause. We are not willing to admit defeat. A person higher up in the administration may well look at a struggling principal in the same way a teacher looks at a struggling student with the knowledge that everyone has value: there has to be something to help the person shine. They think they know the right recipe for making chicken salad.
Long ago and far away on this blog, I wrote that one of the hardest lessons I learned as a new teacher was that I couldn't save all of my students. This didn't mean that every child didn't have worth...or that there wasn't someone out there who would make all of the difference in a particular kid's life...just that I, personally, was not going to be able to be the change in 100% of my students. I continued to try to do just that, because you can't ever predict what it will be that lights a fire in a person, but for the ones I didn't do that for, I always hoped that they found that connection with another teacher or adult.
Is there ever a time, however, that with adults we just agree that no matter what we add, chicken salad just ain't gonna happen? How many cooks does it take to give things a try---is there a limit? How do we way the needs of children against the investment in an experienced administrator? Do we ever give up on a principal?