BOSTON — State education leaders have approved a plan to grant provisional licenses to principals and vice principals, along with a slew of other changes aimed at helping public school districts ease a chronic shortage of administrators.

The changes, unanimously approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday, update existing licensing regulations to allow school administrators to get a provisional license before they complete the required Performance Assessment for Licensure evaluation.

The provisional licenses were among a raft of changes approved by the board Tuesday. The goal is to address a shortage of school administrators, which has many school districts struggling to recruit and retain principals and vice principals, along with educators and other positions.

Other measures include approval of a one-year extension of a pilot program authorizing alternative assessments for school administrators to demonstrate their knowledge of communication and literacy skills, and creating a new military spouse license for school administration.

In a memo to board members, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley recommended approval of the new licensure requirements and the extension of the alternative assessment pilot program, among the other changes.

Riley said implementation of the pilot project was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A year extension, he said, would give the state more time to gather data and gauge its effectiveness in attracting new administrators.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, education officials solicited public comment on the proposal and found that a majority of submissions backed the changes. Of the commenters, at least 85% said they supported the provisional licenses, according to a summary of the feedback.

The Massachusetts School Administrators Association, which supports the changes, said it “frequently” hears from school districts and administrators who complain about the dearth of qualified potential administrators to fill vacant positions and the lack of incentives to pursue a career in public school administration.

“We receive multiple inquiries from current school administrators that are seeking to leave the role of building principal,” the association said in comments to the board. “These inquiries far outnumber individuals that are looking to enter the world of school administration.”

The Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers said it “supports the concept” of providing provisional principal licenses to help ease a hiring crunch among school administrators.

“This would create a parallel structure to teacher licenses, which also offer a provisional route, and hopefully help ease shortages in the school leader ranks,” the union stated in comments submitted to the education board.

But the AFT said it has concerns about some provisions of the new regulations, including the requirements of who would be eligible for a provisional license.

The group urged the board to require at least three years of direct educational experience and limit the term of the licenses to three years, instead of five.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association echoed those concerns, calling on the board to tighten the provisional licensing requirements by reducing the period of provisional licenses.

Locally, a number of north of Boston communities — including Marblehead and Beverly — are searching for principals and other administrators in addition to seeking to fill vacancies for teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff.

Massachusetts isn’t alone in the struggle to fill vacant school administrator jobs and other positions. A 2022 report by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found a “staggering” 4 out of 10 principals surveyed expect to leave the profession in the next three years.

The group said the lingering impact of the pandemic on education and “increased political tensions” over COVID-19 restrictions were among the top reasons administrators are leaving the profession.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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