Why Principals Matter
“When did we lose sight of the fact that there are kids sitting in classes who are dependent upon … legislators to create policies to ensure an effective education that is based in practice and not in theory?” asks NAASP President Jana Frieler in her Principal’s Policy guest blog post. “The political rhetoric leaves us as practitioners truly perplexed,” she continues. “How is it that we are able to take students from different backgrounds, sometimes from families who feud against one another, and sit them next to each other in a class and expect them to get along yet our own politicians cannot seem to do the same? And we hear that we, as educators, are not doing our jobs?”
I have written about the dearth of principals’ voices in the reform movement and the willingness to let others speak for us whether they are union leaders, teachers, legislators, or politicians. I recommend that readers take a look at her comments in their entirety. We need our own spokesperson to repeatedly point out the difference between theory and practice, between talking about the job and actually doing the job. As I’ve noted many times before, the implementation of many new policies and procedures suggested by politicians will fall to local school administration. This is why principals need to be involved in initials reform conversations and planning, especially when it comes to supervision and evaluation of staff.
If you are sometimes wondering whether principals make a difference, check out the remarkable turnaround at High Point High School since Rebecca Garcia became acting principal. Among the most diverse school populations of Prince George’s County in Maryland, 34 different languages are spoken among its immigrant families. Not long ago truancy and gang violence were prevalent, culminating with a YouTube video in March of a group of students kicking a classmate in the head. Garcia became acting principal a few days later.
Truancy has dropped from 50 a day to about 2, says Garcia. Order has been restored. “If you treat students with respect, if they know you and what the expectations are, then they will rise up to the challenge,” says Garcia, who instituted common sense changes, like adding a fourth lunch period to cut down on the chaos of a crowed cafeteria, to improve the climate. “Kids are starting to get excited about coming to school,” says a junior girl.
Don’t let all those talking heads fool you. Practitioners are the heart of improving schools, and principals can make it work.