7000 School Administrators Have a Voice
We’ve heard a lot these days from politicians, teachers’ union presidents, school district leaders, business leaders, pundits, professors, and bloggers about what schools need to do to improve. Lost in the cacophony are school administrators – principals, assistant supervisors, department chairs, directors – the people who make things work on a day-to- day basis and who will eventually be responsible for implementing changes on the ground and in the trenches.
So I asked Kevin Casey, the executive director of the 7000-member School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) to give us an idea of what is front and center the minds of middle management during these changing times. Here are some of his thoughts:
ST: Do you think principals and other middle managers have a voice in the national debate about school reform? If they do, what are they saying? If they don’t, should they?
KC: They do have a voice in the national debate, although not one that is as loud as certain other stakeholder groups. The teachers have the power of numbers, the superintendents and the school boards have the power of independent authority, and the principals find themselves without either. Nevertheless, the most common message is a concern over helter-skelter fast-track change in a number of areas. To borrow a phrase from Richard Rothstein, it is the principal often tasked with implementing the “reforms du jour.” While they don’t want to be seen as obstructionists, the considered thoughtful concerns of those on the ground level are appropriate to be raised, but are often not appreciated.
ST: What would you say are the two or three major issues that concern principals?
KC: I believe the majority of the principals would agree that the impact of budgetary problems on programming is a significant concern. There is widespread concern that schools will not be able to provide services to those who need them in the face of state aid cuts and the possibility of a tax cap.
On a macro scale, there is concern with the demonization of educators in public discourse. Many administrators find the discourse to be superficial or ill-informed, and worry that the fact that their profession has been reduced to a political football will ultimately be harmful to the long-term quality of education.
ST: Are the concerns of principals from big city school districts different from the concerns in rural/suburban districts, and if so, how?
KC: There isn’t a great difference in the concerns of principals in big city districts from those in suburban and rural districts. Administrators, regardless of the type of district they represent, are subject to a variety of pressures and almost uniformly want their students to be successful. Big city administrators may be more sensitive to the greater needs presented by the larger and typically more diverse population that they serve, but a greater differentiation exists between affluent districts, however one might define such a district, and those that are not. Those that are not may see certain goals as less obtainable than their counterparts in better funded districts, regardless of what type of environment those districts may be located in.
ST: As I noted in my blog, after seeing Waiting for Superman, I was struck by the absence of principals and other middle management administrators who have to make things work on a daily basis. As a result, little attention was give to how challenging a principal’s job can be in dealing with student discipline, unsupportive parents, and uncooperative or even incompetent teachers. Presenting a principals job, I think, would have given a more balanced picture of the challenges of big city schools. What do you think?
KC: I think that entirely depends upon how the principals were portrayed. Public schools were portrayed as largely failing, well beyond what the reality is, and charter schools were portrayed as largely successful, well beyond what the reality is. I think that the portrayal of principals could have been balanced, or presented in a manner designed to cause the audience to form a particular opinion with respect to the usefulness and effectiveness of the principal.
WEDNESDAY: Casey talks about tenure for principals and their role in supervision and evaluation.