Q. In my opinion, no one is more important in education than the
school principal. What is being done to empower principals?
You're so right. Most people agree that school leaders
need to be cultivated as carefully as their students. The more physically
visible principals are to students, teachers and parents, the more stable the
The more active principals are in leading
collaborations between teachers, and involving the whole community, the more
effective the school is likely to be, and the better off academically and
socially the students will be.
It takes a keen eye for balance, though. Sometimes
principals are so busy with their own career development, continuing education
and community outreach activities that they neglect their own teachers,
students and school building. When you see a school building with low test
scores that is too noisy, a playground that is out of control, a lot of
suspensions and teacher trouble, dirty floors, untidy bathrooms, and vandalism
and breakage on school grounds, those are hallmarks of poor management - red
flags of a poor principal.
On the other hand, principals who don't network
outside the school building and school system are shortchanging their staff and
students in terms of forging helpful links with the outside world that can lead
to greater academic success and innovation, not to mention additional funding.
Or the problem might not be with the principal,
but with the people who supervise the principal - the district higher-ups. It
could be that declining enrollment and an achievement gap between rich and
poor, white and black, reflects school leadership that is not empowered by the
central office bureaucracy.
Principals need power to act as a mini "chief
executive officer" of the school, since they are the ones closest to the
action, instead of just passing on policies and mandates from the ivory towers
of the central office.
Here are some positive steps districts are
taking to empower principals:
bonuses for principals in schools with improved test scores and that have
instituted curriculum and instruction that complies with state learning
principals more autonomy in hiring and firing, and school expenditures
- Relief from
desk work to allow more movement around the building, with coaching so
that classroom visits and staff meetings are more constructive and
leadership development, such as the "Pittsburgh Emerging Leadership
Academy," which matches school leaders to community mentors to help teach
them how to reach for help outside the school building.
development from teachers' colleges and private educational coaching firms
so that principals are more skilled at everything from statistical
analysis to conflict resolution
See the websites of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, www.naesp.org, and the National Association of
Secondary School Principals, www.nassp.org