Great principals take responsibility for school success
Great principals take responsibility for school successGreat principals believe that the problems of the school are their problems, and they never stop trying to solvethem. If a student is having trouble learning, a successful principal knows it is her job to figure out why, whetherit is a learning disability, trouble with attendance, or gang involvement. Great principals are also creative in theirproblem-solving and approach challenges with an entrepreneurial attitude. They find ways to implement goodideas, rather than accepting the status quo.Questions to ask at your school1. Ask your principal: What challenges does the school face?2. Ask your principal: What is the plan to meet those challenges?3. Ask your childs teacher: How does the principal get involved when a student is having trouble?For example, most schools today have very limited budgets, making it difficult to pay for innovative newprograms. When Margaret Chiu, principal of Galileo High School, finds a new program she thinks will benefither students, she doesnt waste time lamenting the lack of funding. She gets busy. She immediately beginsthinking of who in the community she can ask to help support and pay for the program. She has createdpartnerships with businesses, local colleges, and health care professionals that help enrich her schoolscurriculum.Whatever challenges they face, great principals dont make excuses for why their schools cant succeed. Insteadthey make it their top priority to figure out how their schools can excel, and do everything they can to make thathappen.Great principals lead teaching and learning at their schoolsPrincipals at successful schools understand the strengths and needs of their students and they know what ishappening in the classrooms at their schools. These principals play an active role in planning and supportinginstruction that is appropriate for their students, and they ensure that school time and resources are focused onstudent achievement.Questions to ask at your school1. Ask your principal: What are our schools main academic goals?2. Ask your principal: What steps are being taken to achieve those goals?3. Look up your schools achievement data on GreatSchools.org and ask your principal: How is the schooladdressing weaknesses or gaps in student achievement?Nearly 60 percent of Moscone Elementary Schools students are English language learners, but Principal PattyMartel is determined that all of her students will be proficient in reading in English by the time they move on tomiddle school. In support of this goal, she allocates money from her limited school budget to pay for an earlyintervention literacy program as soon as a student begins struggling with reading. She also requires that allprograms at her school include an element of literacy. Reading and writing are integrated into art, science, andeverything else the students do.Principals must also understand what test scores and other data say about their students learning and use theinformation to help teachers set goals and improve instruction.When test scores at Alvarado Elementary School showed that some groups of students were not reading andwriting as well as others, Principal David Weiner helped teachers develop a new plan. Teachers across the schoolcoordinated their reading and writing instruction, so that struggling students could receive direct instruction froma literacy specialist in addition to the classroom teacher.Successful principals must constantly evaluate what is working and what is not, and use that information to makeimprovements.Great principals hire, develop, and retain excellent teachersOne of a principals most important roles is ensuring that every student is taught by an excellent teacher. Althoughit can be time-consuming, principals must actively recruit good teachers to their schools. Principals can visitteacher education classes to find promising new teachers; they can open their schools to student teachers and try
to hire the good ones; and they can talk to teachers and other principals to find quality experienced teachers whomight be looking for new positions.Principals must also support and develop the teachers they have. Research shows that principal leadership is a keyfactor in a teachers decision to stay at a particular school. Much of a principals time should be spent inclassrooms observing teachers, complimenting their strengths, and offering specific suggestions for improvement.If a teacher is struggling with a particular issue or group of kids, the principal should be in the classroom as oftenas possible, watching and helping the teacher develop more successful strategies.Patricia Gray, principal at Balboa High School, says that she spent two to three hours a day observing inclassrooms and talking with teachers during her first several years as principal. Principal Weiner notes that manyteachers initially objected to the hours he spent observing in classrooms at Alvarado, but he quickly found that thebest teachers were eager to work with him to improve their teaching.Questions to ask at your school1. Ask your principal: How do you recruit new teachers when there is an opening?2. Ask your childs teacher: How much time does the principal spend oberserving in your classroom?3. Ask your principal: How are great teahcers at our school recognized or reewarded?Providing meaningful opportunities for professional development is another way principals can help teachersimprove instruction. The principal should make sure that workshops and other development activities are relatedto the goals of the school and will help teachers better serve their students.Marcia Parrott, principal at Miraloma Elementary School, pulled her staff out of a time-consuming teachertraining program that was not meeting their needs. The techniques taught in the training program were notcompatible with the reading program used at the school and the program instructors were not able to help theteachers integrate the two programs. Although she had to defend her decision to the school district, she wasadamant that her teachers not spend their time on a program they could not use to help students.Principals must keep good teachers professionally satisfied by showing them that their efforts are valued andsupported by the principal and other teachers. Principal Martel joked that she keeps teachers at Moscone by doingall the yard duty herself. Although her comment was lighthearted, it reflects the respect she has for teachers andher recognition that the teachers at her school work hard.Providing time to plan with other teachers is another way principals can support their teachers and treat them asprofessionals. One of the first changes Principal Chiu made at Galileo was to change the school day schedule toallow time each week for teachers to meet and plan together. Adelina Aramburo, former principal at DanielWebster Elementary School, made sure her schools tight budget included a few hours of extra pay each monthfor teachers. She believes this showed teachers that the time they spent meeting and planning together outsidetheir official work day was recognized and appreciated.Great principals build a strong school communityFor a school to be successful, the administration, teachers, parents, students and support staff must work as ateam. Principalsmust work with the staff to make school a welcoming place for all students and their families.Principal Parrott at Miraloma holds a monthly parent-principal chat, an informal time when parents can come toask questions and give input. She also schedules meetings and events at times when parents are already at theschool picking up their children, for example, when the after-school program closes for the day.Questions to ask at your school1. Ask your child: Do you feel safe at school?2. Ask your child: Do you think school rules and consequences are clear? Are all kids treated fairly?3. Ask your principal: How can I get involved at the school?
“I’d walk a mile for a quality program. But I wouldn’t walk across the street for a bad one.”- Ben-Oni Jean-Pierre, student, Providence RIA commitment to quality has to begin with an understanding of program characteristics likely to benefitchildren. Drawing on research on youth development, education and related areas, a 2005 study by theRAND Corporation entitled, Making Out-of-School-Time Matter listed some of those conditions, including:• a clear mission;• high expectations;• a safe environment;• supportive emotional climate;• small total enrollment;• stable, trained personnel;• appropriate content and pedagogy;• and frequent program assessment.