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Only 21 percent of school principals said they saw improving students' achievements as the primary goal of their work - but even smaller percentages gave top billing to the other goals posited in a new survey on principals' views.

The survey was conducted during the previous academic year by the Avnei Rosha Institute, which trains principals. Its results were presented last week to senior officials of the Education Ministry, which founded Avnei Rosha together with Yad Hanadiv - The Rothschild Foundation. Avnei Rosha is to hold its first convention of school principals in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The poll found that 18.3 percent of the principals ranked "inculcating a feeling of belonging and significance among all those who come to school" as their main goal. Another 16.1 percent said their primary goal was "educating for values and courtesy," while 15.9 percent chose reducing violence as their main goal. The relatively small number of principals who gave the latter top billing may be due to the fact that some respondents were principals of elementary schools, where violence is not a major problem.

The poll surveyed 1,560 principals from both elementary and secondary schools - about half of all those in the school system.

The fact that just over one-fifth of the principals cited improving students' achievements as the central goal of their work might reveal low expectations on the part of the principals. This was one of the conclusions of an earlier study by Prof. Zemira Mevarech, head of Bar-Ilan University's School of Education. According to Mevarech, the Israeli education system makes almost no demands on children to succeed, whereas in most of the countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there is heavy pressure on students to achieve.

The fact that the principals differed so greatly over which goal they deemed most important - from the need to improve student achievement through educating toward values to professional advancement for teachers - also reflects the numerous and sometimes contradictory demands on school principals by students, parents, teachers, local supervisors and Education Ministry personnel.

In addition, the poll revealed serious problems with the training principals receive before assuming their posts. According to Education Ministry statistics, while 88 percent of principals in the secular education system and 76 percent in the state religious schools have undergone some kind of training, in the "recognized but unofficial system" - mainly ultra-Orthodox schools - less than 50 percent of principals were trained for the job.

Furthermore, when principals were asked about the subjects that were not sufficiently covered in their training, 40 percent said they were not taught how to deal with the difficulties of a managerial post, and about 30 percent said the training included no practical experience. A slightly lower percentage said the aspect most lacking in their training was ongoing supervision after assuming their post. According to ministry statistics, some 43 percent of principals have been on the job for four years or less.

With regard to job satisfaction, principals rated work with students and teachers in the first two places, followed by work with Education Ministry supervisors. Work with local government officials and the Education Ministry's headquarters staff were deemed the least satisfactory aspects of the job.