Superintendent’s Message: An Inspiring Day in the Life of a Principal
Parents, students, teachers, taxpayers and policymakers have increasingly high expectations for the accomplishments of public schools. In any school system, principals feel the full weight of these expectations and, and a result, the magnitude of their responsibilities grow each year.
From the outside, our schools look much like the schools that you and I attended, save for the technology that has eased its way into our classrooms over the past two decades. Parents have comfort in sending their children off to a school that is familiar and watching them participate in activities that served previous generations of students just fine.
I frequently hear suggestions that we should operate our schools more like business. Indeed, there are things we can learn from the business model, yet there are many differences in the way the two entities must operate. Those differences begin with the expectations we place on educators in the 21st century.
The fact is that a principal in even our smallest elementary school manages more staff members, students, and “visitors” each day than the total population of some small towns in our state. They manage arrival and departure of transportation systems, the distribution of food, and maintenance of facilities. They collect fees, approve expenditures, troubleshoot, develop schedules, and supervise groups well before school starts and long after the last bell rings. They mediate conflict and communicate to a variety of constituents. But that’s not all. Each day includes a host of questions, unscheduled meetings, telephone calls, letters and recommendations, and responses to unexpected events big and small.
Principals serve alongside teachers to develop curriculum based on state standards; research and provide resources, materials, instructional strategies and interventions to deliver the curriculum; and develop assessments, benchmark progress, and analyze data in order to meet each student’s individual needs. Principals also represent their school at state and local meetings. They oversee instruction and evaluate staff to assure that students receive equitable instruction no matter where they attend school.
A principal’s day often extends into the evening and weekend. Our schools host activities six and sometimes seven nights out of each week. A quick survey of the Emporia High School calendar of scheduled events lists well over 525 varsity/sub-varsity athletic competitions, music and theater productions, booster club/parent events, school dances and other activities hosted for high school students – activities supervised by our principals and assistant principals. That, of course, does not include practices, rehearsals, weightlifting, extended school year programs, after-school clubs and recreational activities. In addition to local events, our high school administrators travel as much as 7,500 to 10,000 miles in a year to attend athletic competitions out of town, participate in league and regional meetings and represent our students/staff at state and local conferences.
When our principals do their job well, nobody really notices.
Although I am often asked how kids are different today, it is the institution of school that has seen the most change. If you have been following along in recent months, you are likely familiar with the monumental changes taking place in education – more rigorous standards to guide local curriculum, higher standards for instructional practice and interventions driven by data; accreditation processes that demand results, rigor, relevance, relationships, and a responsive culture; intense professional development, classroom support, and performance evaluation that is not handed down in the form of an in-service day or an annual review checklist but is, rather, embedded into regular classroom instruction every day.
Each of our principals supports more than 300 students and full-time staff members in duties that encompass a large range of tasks and responsibilities. The business model suggests a much smaller staff-to-supervisor ratio. And yet, our schools continue to assure that today’s students truly are prepared for tomorrow’s opportunities. It is an awe-inspiring task that requires exceptional leaders leading extraordinary teachers and support staff. As I like to say, “It’s the principal of the thing.”