Trustee Guide to Principal Appointments

This Guide is the result of the writer’s experiences in working with Boards to help them appoint a new principal.

Most of the information in this Guide may be described as “lessons learned” over the course of many appointments starting in 1990 with the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools.

From some of these lessons the writer found that there was information that was simply not known by the trustees he worked with because the process of appointing a principal was a totally new experience for them. It is rare for a trustee to experience more than once the role of appointing a new principal. Most trustees never get the opportunity to appoint a new principal to their school.

Some of the information found in this Guide touches on legal aspects. These include such matters as “conflict of interest” and whether or not a staff trustee is included in the process of appointing a principal.

This Guide is given freely to Boards who have approached KEA. We do this because we care about schools getting the best principal for their school for the sake of the children - and if this Guide helps the process then that is fine with us.

We also invite you to look at our website:


Terry Hewetson



Before the Process Starts.

The Board’s Legacy.

It is comparatively rare for a school trustee to appoint more than one person to the principalship of a school. Indeed, many trustees serve without ever having the opportunity to appoint a principal.

The greatest legacy a Board of Trustees can leave a school is to ensure that, when they do appoint a principal, that the person they select is the “best person for the job”. The future of the school and all of the children who pass through it absolutely depends on having the best principal. Principals tend to stay in a school from ten to twenty years and in that time literally thousands of children have their education with that principal. It is vital for those children to be served by the very best principal for them.

It is tempting for a Board to assume they already have the best person when someone they know applies for the vacancy.  Almost, “better the devil you know”!

We believe that if this is the case then such a Board should have the courage of its convictions and test “their” candidate honestly and fairly against other applicants. If their candidate prevails then not only can they be confident in the appointment; the successful candidate can be assured that they were appointed completely on their merits. The appointment will have credibility in educational circles.

We believe that most Boards do want to see all of the people – the known and the unknown - who are interested in leading their school into the future. This is an exciting time in the life of a Board and too precious to simply give away. 

When applicants go through a comprehensive selection process that stretches them professionally and provides them with feedback on their performance they can be more confident that the process they went though was fair and professional. The successful candidate will know that he or she proved their mettle while the unsuccessful candidates will have assurance that the “best person for the job” won through and speaks well of the school’s process in the circles they work in.

The aim of KEA Education Associates is to offer Boards the means by which they can appoint the “best person for the job” when they are looking for a new principal. We do this by handling the administration of the process so that it is not only efficient but also highly confidential. This protects the integrity of the Board and the privacy of the applicants.

We offer a repertoire of proven techniques to aid trustees in their selection process and we provide the experts who can lift the level of expertise of trustees so they can better understand and appreciate what candidates’ answers reveal.

We believe that it is important for Boards to take all the time that is needed to follow a good process and to make the right decision to appoint the best person for the job. It is not a process that needs to be rushed. At the end of the process, the successful person still needs to give eight weeks’ notice to their employer. A measured approach with the long-term interests of the school and its future students in mind will be the most rewarding.

At the end of the process we want Boards to celebrate the fair and ethical process they used to employ the best principal for their school so they ensure their children for years to come will continue to enjoy an excellent education.



Your school’s website will be studied very carefully during the recruitment period. It is potential applicant’s first impression of your school.

·         The questions you need to ask yourselves is:

·         Does it give a good impression?

·         Does it accurately portray the school you are sending your children to?

·         It is up to date? 

·         Does it give information about the Board?

·         Does it have information about each trustee? [See ideas below]


Suggested items to include in a trustee profile:

·         Your name - including how you prefer to be called.

·         How you joined the Board - as elected, co-opted, staff, student.

·         Your occupation [if desired]

·         How long you have been on the Board.

·         Your ethnicity or culture – if desired.

·         Your children at school [if any].

·         Any qualifications you might want to mention you have.

·         Any other community involvement you have engaged in.

·         Your particular interests or responsibilities in education at this school.

Using a Consultant.

Most Boards in New Zealand find a consultant an essential person to guide the appointment process. It is important, we believe, to have an experienced professional educator acting as that consultant. Consultants may guide the Board but it is the Board that makes the final decision as to who is to be interviewed and who is the successful applicant.

We believe that most Boards are inclined to selecting “their” consultant by how well they “connect” with that person rather than just going for the cheapest provider. Our experience has been that most Boards realise that the cost of finding a new principal is actually an investment in the school’s future. This is especially true when you consider that most principals stay around 10+ years and that means the person you appoint has the education of thousands of young learners in their hands. That person’s influence will be felt for a very long time.

We are accredited to the New Zealand School Trustees Association for principal appointments as well as appraisers.

The staff and student trustees [Ministry of Education statement]

We frequently find that Boards are not sure of the role the staff trustee and, in a secondary school, the student trustee play in the appointment of a principal.

The Education Act is clear on this – these people are a full part of a Board and are entitled to help appoint people to senior management.

Sections 94 and 97 of the Education Act 1989 set out the legislative requirements for staff and student trustees. Unless the principal is the only member of the school’s staff, all state and state-integrated schools must have a staff trustee. Likewise, schools that have full-time students above year 9 must have a student trustee.

The staff and student trustees are first and foremost trustees. They are elected to bring a staff or student perspective to the board in the same way that parent- elected trustees bring a parent and community view (as opposed to the views of a particular group or agency).

Good practice suggests that staff or student trustees should not be required to provide individual reports at each board meeting unless specifically requested by the board. Parent-elected trustees do not report on the day-to-day happenings of the parent body or the issues that parents may have with the school. If there are issues relating to the students or staff that the board needs to be aware of, these should come to the board through the principal as the day-to-day manager of the school.

Like all trustees, the staff and student trustees must act in the best interests of the students. They have the same responsibilities and are bound by the same codes of conduct as the other trustees. They are part of the board team, rather than representing a single group. Effective Governance “How Boards Work” [2013].

Unless there are extra-ordinary reasons for doing otherwise – and not just staff pressure – it is not advisable or necessary to include non-elected staff members or parents to the Board to help you find a new principal. It is a Board responsibility.

Conflict of Interest.

At the very start of the process the trustees involved should declare any “conflict of interest” they might have. During the process there are other opportunities that might exist for a trustee to declare such a conflict. This might happen, for example, when shortlisting and a trustee identifies an applicant as a friend or relative.

The Ministry of Education’s website has a significant section on this topic. Go to and find ‘School Employment” where you scroll down to this issue. One case study relevant to this document has been included below:


Case study: employment of a relative

Stephanie is the principal of a secondary school in a small town. She takes a leading role in handling the recruitment of key staff. A vacancy has arisen for the position of finance manager and Stephanie's husband has expressed an interest in applying for the position.

Stephanie has a conflict of interest here. The school needs to employ staff on merit, and must avoid perceptions of undue influence or preferential treatment in appointment decisions.

Stephanie should advise the chairperson of the school's board about the situation. The board should ensure that this appointment process is handled entirely by others, and that Stephanie has no involvement in the process. Because of Stephanie's own position, the board needs to take extra care to ensure that the process is truly transparent and competitive, so that all suitably qualified people are able to apply and be fairly considered. Similarly, it is important that there can be no reasonable suggestion that Stephanie may have influenced the decision from behind the scenes.

But managing the initial appointment process is not the only type of conflict of interest that needs to be considered carefully by the school. Issues are also likely to arise in the ongoing working relationship, where there are matters that directly affect or involve both Stephanie and her husband.

It is a fact of life that there will be times when two people who are related - or who are in a personal relationship - will work for the same organisation. That is not usually improper in itself. Indeed, it would often be wrong for someone to be disadvantaged simply because of who they are related to, especially in a large school where the two people do not work closely together each day.

However, sometimes - and depending on the nature of the position - appointing someone who is a relative could cause difficulties, even where a fair process has been followed. This is because it can create a risk of a lack of independence, rigour, and professionalism in ongoing decision-making. In a school, it would usually be unwise for relatives to hold two of the most senior positions, or to hold positions that are in a direct reporting relationship.

In Stephanie's husband's situation, the school's board could consider whether it would be able to manage the frequent and significant conflicts of interest that would be likely to arise if Stephanie's husband was appointed. The two roles are senior ones and likely to involve a direct reporting relationship (or at least a lot of working closely together on managing the school's finances).

Principal’s Salary Scale – U Grade.

A principal’s salary scale is mainly based on the number of students in the school.

This translates into a “U” scale. It is found in section 3 of the Principals’’ Collective Agreement. Your principal can advise you of his salary scale and what it is likely to be in the next two years.

U Grade

Range of students


U Grade

Range of students










































Consultation with Stakeholders.

It is good practice to consult with the stakeholders of the school as early in the process as possible. The stakeholders include staff, parents and learners – the latter in accordance with their age and abilities.

KEA is willing to meet with staff and a group of the school’s senior students to find out their views on the principal they think will be a good “fit” for the school.

KEA can consult with a representative group of the parent community through Survey Monkey and collate these findings in a report for the Board.

Trustees themselves are stakeholders and should have a discussion on what they are seeking in a new principal - perhaps using the information gained from the information gained by KEA’s consultation with the other stakeholders. Two KEA associates are happy to attend such a meeting in support.

Job Description & Draft Performance Agreement.

This period of time is very useful for looking anew at your principal’s job description and performance agreement and deciding what you might change to suit where the “school is at” in terms of its strategic direction. Your principal should be able to provide you with these documents. Your consultant might also be a source to find other models. NZSTA also has models for you to consider.

This is also seen by many boards as an opportunity to review how things are done – Board committees, reporting to Boards and anything else that they board may think needs updating for greater effectiveness.

These new documents may be included in the application pack so all applicants know what will be expected of them should they be appointed. Alternatively, the current documents can be included with the advice to applicants that they will be revised with the new principal after the appointment has been confirmed.

Teacher Registration.

Everyone who teaches in a NZ State school must have teacher registration. Usually people who apply for principal positions have “full” registration. However, people returning from overseas may have let their registration lapse and on their return to NZ when they re-register they are registered as “subject to confirmation” and you are safe in appointing them. They regain their “full” status during the first year of their appointment after an appraisal by a professional educator who can confirm that the principal meets all professional standards and teacher criteria.

During the Process.

Application packs.

The usual way of attracting applicants to apply is through a really good advertisement supported by a very informative application pack, which may be downloaded from a website and/or sent to the applicant by email or post.

An informative application pack could include:

1.      A welcome letter to the applicant by the board chairperson.

2.      The advertisement.

3.      The job description.

4.      A person description, which may include information about the qualities the board is seeking. The qualities may include matters such as experience, qualifications and personal characteristics [e.g. integrity].

5.      A description of the school is very useful as is a description of the local community.

6.      Special features of the school such as Enviroschool, ESOL, B4L etc.

7.      Information about the process with key dates.

8.      Some boards have included a short autobiography of each trustee enhanced by photos [group or individual].

It is also worth thinking about what the Board can offer a new principal. Things to consider might include financial support for professional development and attendance at conferences. Consideration might be given to the new principal’s working environment such as supportive board, highly professional staff, students eager to learn and a description of the community. Naturally, these offerings should be truthful and accurate statements of the reality.

It is advised that application forms should not be downloadable or sent to applicants except by personal application to the person handling the process. This is so that person can inform the board how many application forms have been sent out and how many actual applications have been received. KEA operates an application Register to keep track of the progress of those potential applicants.

In Committee.

All deliberations by the Board during the process are considered “in committee” and anything that is said in committee must not be passed on to anyone directly, indirectly or by inference. The Board must be seen to be, as well as be, a united body from start to finish if their final decision is to be accepted by their stakeholders.

School Visits.

Many prospective applicants like to have a look at the school before they actually apply. This is not unusual and that person should phone the current principal for an appointment. The principal would also decide who might the most appropriate person to show the applicant around.  It would be expected that any applicant who has been short listed for interview should visit the school if they haven’t already done so. The KEA consultant should be told who the person is and their contact details.

Whoever has the responsibility for showing applicants around should not, themselves, be applicants as this is an obvious conflict of interest.

Orientation Days.

This approach is similar to the “School Visit” but is usually managed by trustees working with school management. This approach compacts the visits into one day where all applicants are invited to visit the school either in one group or in stages during the day. In the former the guests may even be hosted at a light lunch. The Board itself decides how such days will be organised. This works best if it is fully planned. KEA associates can discuss a number of ways an orientation day, or days; have operated successfully by individual schools.

The advertisement.

All too often we observe advertisements appearing three or four times in expensive media that people are not following. ERO studied where most people looked to find new positions and one publication was read far above all others – the “Education Gazette”.

Our philosophy is “do it once and do it right in the right publication”. This is much more effective and less expensive.

For that reason, we always recommend that one good advertisement in the Gazette works. For medium to large schools doing it “right” involves a ½ page in colour. Somewhat pricey but effective and only done once.

A study of many advertisements in the Gazette always tends to indicate what schools want but they are usually light on what they can offer. In the business world people try to attract people to apply to work with them. Why shouldn’t this also apply to schools?

So, what can schools offer potential new principals or people in senior management? We know you can’t do much about salaries but you can spend money in approved ways.

Here are a few suggestions that involve funding:

·        Membership in educational associations such as Australia New Zealand Education Law Association which meets annually in a major city of those two countries.

·         Attendance at overseas conferences such as the influential ASCD annual conference on school leadership or one of the many curriculum conferences held annually in the USA, Australia or in SE Asia.

·         Attendance at NZ conferences developed by NZPF, APPA, NZ AIMS and many more.

·         Attendance at courses and seminars around the local area as part of the principal’s professional development and which also enhances the principal’s networks.

Here are a few that do not require funding:

·         Working with an extremely supportive Board of Trustees, a collegial leadership team, and a capable, enthusiastic teaching staff.

·         The pleasure being engaged with students who are self-motivated and who are striving to succeed.

·         A vibrant learning environment that offers a variety of experiences and challenges for the students and staff.

·         An attractive physical environment and a rich source of learning resources.

·         Membership of a strong cluster of schools with an active principals’ cluster group and networked learning community.

·         The support of an active Home & School or PTA organisation.

·         Working in a school that has supportive families. Who are keen on their children’s education and appreciate what the school does.

·         Support from a very professional Senior Management Team and Board of Trustees.

·         A commitment to your professional growth and development.

·         A car parking space convenient to your work place. [Just for a laugh]

·         You will enjoy a well-maintained, attractive school enhanced by beautiful grounds.

·         You will enjoy a vibrant, warm culture brimming with positivity.

Due Diligence.

Due diligence refers to the checks done on applicants by the consultant after they have received permission by the applicant [“Permissions” are found in our application form.]  Without these permissions a consultant is at risk of breaching an applicant’s privacy.

The first check to be done is to ensure they are properly registered to teach. You must be registered as a teacher to teach and be a principal in NZ State schools.

The second is to ensure that they are eligible to work in New Zealand. People do “try this on”.

Before people are interviewed they should show the consultant their teacher registration card; their driver’s licence or passport to prove identity through the photo and other details; and the transcripts of their tertiary qualifications. The Vulnerable Children’s Act is the key guide for you in due diligence.

An Internet search may show cases where applicants have been bankrupt, continuous debtors or situations where they have caused troubles in schools.

It is the consultant’s role to perform these checks and should not be delegated around different trustees. This protects the Board and the school.


The Board has two major events during the appointment process – the shortlisting day and the interview day.

Refreshments should be organised for intervals and lunch. These should be well organised beforehand so no one has to leave the meetings to collect these refreshments. Time can be tight so deliveries should be organised if the food cannot be picked up on the way to the meeting.

It is not a good idea to go off-site to a public place to dine, as the time cannot be managed.

During the interviews it is often considered a pleasant touch to have small bowls of mints available. A selection of mints is an inexpensive treat for the panel members.

Personality and Values Profiling.

These tests are normed on more than 500,000 working adults in employment worldwide and validated on more than 200 occupations covering all major industries [including education].

The tables below explain what the personality traits are about.



Self-confidence, self-esteem and composure under pressure.


Initiative, competitiveness and desire for leadership.


Extraversion, gregariousness and social interaction.

Interpersonal sensitivity

Warmth, charm and relationship management.


Planned, organised, self-disciplined and conscientious.


Vision, creativity, imagination and curiosity.

Learning approach

Learning enjoyment, stays current with occupation.




A desire to be known, seen, visible, famous, and a life-style guided by a search for opportunities to be noticed and dreams of fame and high achievement, whether or not they are fulfilled.


A desire to succeed, make things happen, make a difference and outperform one’s competition.


The pursuit of fun, excitement, pleasure and a lifestyle organised around eating, drinking and entertaining.


A desire to help others a concern for the welfare of the less fortunate in life, and a lifestyle organised around public service and the betterment of humanity.


Concerns needing and enjoying frequent and varied social contact and a lifestyle organised around social interaction.


A belief in and dedication to values such as family, church, thrift, hard work, appropriate social behaviour, and a lifestyle that reflects these themes.


A need for predictability and structure, and effort to avoid risk and uncertainty – especially in the employment area – and a life style organised around minimising errors and mistakes.


An interest in earning money, realising profits, finding new business opportunities and a life style organised around investments and financial planning.


A need for self-expression, a dedication to quality, an interest in how things look, feel, sound, and close attention to the appearance of work products.


Concerns being interested in science, comfortable with technology, and preferring data-based – as opposed to intuitive – decisions, and wanting to know how things work.



Informing the successful applicant.

It is always a good idea to have the Board chairperson contact the new appointee and offer them the position they applied for. There are so many positives one can say about this approach.

One of the major issues during this first contact is to avoid “going public” on social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn until all who missed out have been informed and both school staffs have been informed. It has been distressing for unsuccessful applicants to be told they missed out because the result came out on a friend’s Facebook about who won the job. Information should go out in a considered, planned way.

The new appointee and the chairperson should also coordinate the informing of the staff of their respective schools.

The next thing they plan together is the “handing over” ceremony of the new appointee by his/her school to his/her new school and the receiving of the new appointee into his/her new school. 

It is very affirming for both schools to have a “hand over”. A kapahaka group accompanying the incoming principal to his/her new school is a very effective approach. The incoming principal and kapahaka group are welcomed into the new school with a karanga and powhiri. The protocols and programme will be worked out well before the day – such as during the eight-week notice period.

Expenses paid to applicants who are short-listed.

1.      It is normal practice in New Zealand for applicants who are short-listed for interview to be paid for their travel costs to interview. Such costs might include airfare, mileage, parking fees, taxi fare and the like. It is normal practice for the applicant to provide the Board with an itemised account for payment.

2.      In some areas of New Zealand the Ministry of Education may be approached for help if the school is officially considered “hard to staff”.

3.      In some collective agreements a promotion to a position in another centre may enable a successful applicant to claim movement expenses from the Ministry of Education. Their eligibility should be checked before the school pays any from their own funds.





Permanent Management Unit
Units worth $4,000 each are given for responsibilities people have in a school. The “P” unit means these are permanent and cannot be taken away without a due process found in their Collective Agreement. Deputy and Assistant Principals are allocated PMU but never Principals.


Fixed Term Management Unit
A fixed term unit – also worth $4,000 a year – is given to a teacher for a specified period of time that has a starting date and an end date.

Resource Teacher [Learning & Behaviour]
RTLBs, as the name indicates, are teachers trained at diploma level to assist teachers’ work with children with problems. RTLBs are grouped in a home base school and work with schools in the surrounding areas. The RTLB cluster is led by a manager who reports to the home school’s principal.

Special Education Needs co-Ordinator.
Most schools have an identified person who is responsible for coordinating the support given to children with special needs in their school. SENCOs may be awarded a unit for this responsibility.
U1, U2, U3 etc

Grading of principals
Principals are graded on the size of the school they are leading. See the chart on page 4.
Q1, Q2, Q3 etc

Qualification ranking status. Q1 is basic. Q5 is the highest ranking.
The Ministry has a Qualifications Chart [1998] which assigns each qualification to a particular level – the first, most basic level, is Q1.


Feedback to KEA Education.


Much of what has been included in this Guide has come from our experience in working with schools that are looking for a new principal. We hope this has been helpful for you.

You can help KEA and other schools by giving us feedback on this Guide. Just complete this feedback section and email it back to Terry Hewetson.

Your honest contribution would be appreciated. Take as much space as you like.


1.      What did you think of the concept of this Guide?

2.      What did you find most useful in this Guide?

3.      What items would you like us to expand on?

4.      What items did we leave out that you think should have been included?

5.      Is there any item you disagreed with?

6.      How could we improve this Guide?

7.      What other questions in this survey should we have asked?

8.      Any other comment you’d like to make?

Many thanks.

Terry Hewetson