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NASSP Principals of the Year Talk Challenges, Successes

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

Arlington, Va.

Last week, principals from around the country gathered in this northern Virginia suburb of Washington for the National Association of Secondary School Principals' Training Institute. Part of that program included the announcement of the winners of the Metlife/NASSP Principal of the Year awards. This year, Trevor Greene of Toppenish, Wash., is the National High School Principal of the Year, and Laurie Barron of Newnan, Ga., is the Middle Level Principal of the Year.

You can check out the videos on NASSP's website to get a sense of the winners' very compelling stories. At Toppenish High School, located on the Yakima Indian Reservation and serving largely low-income and minority students, Greene launched a STEM initiative and mentoring program that have taken off. At Smokey Road Middle School in Georgia, where Barron is principal, teacher professional development and data-driven instruction have led to better academic outcomes for the school's many high-poverty students.

Last Friday, I had the chance to sit down with Greene, Barron, and this year's other finalists to discuss matters large and small, from what it takes to be an effective principal to how to use social media to stay in touch with school communities and with other educators (principals Jimmy Casas and Barron were composing tweets as soon as we finished eating!).

At the end of the breakfast, I asked the principals what they felt was the most misunderstood or under-reported part of their job. Here are a few of the topics that came up:


  • "This isn't your father's school," one finalist told me. That is: Learning looks different today than it did before, but communicating that to parents and other stakeholders can be challenging.

  • The needs of kids and families are different, and greater, today than in the past. Many kids aren't going home to stable family situations, and that affects school performance and school culture.

  • Community members often don't understand how school budgets work. For instance, a principal might have to address anger that a new building addition is under construction while arts are being cut when those funding streams might be completely different.

  • A principal's job is extremely multifaceted. He or she has got to evaluate teachers, lead instruction, balance budgets, mentor younger leaders, attend those soccer games. And many principal-training programs don't effectively prepare future school leaders for the job. There's a lot of trial by fire. This also ties into how principals are evaluated, which has recently been in the spotlight.

  • Work/life balance—and preventing burnout—is hard. Good principals have vision and extreme commitment—but that means they often spend so much time with their school communities that time for family and their own kids can be hard to come by. The principals I was with described a "second shift" after teachers go home; nighttime and weekends are when planning, budgeting, and big-picture thinking have to get done.

  • Finally, there's a lot of great stuff happening in schools every day. Sometimes that message just doesn't seem to get out there, and the more it does, the better.

Gatherings like the principals' institute, where people who spend most of their time in the world of one particular school have a chance to come together, often lead to this kind of big-picture thinking. Do these reflections line up with the experience of the district and school leaders you know? What else is misunderstood or changing about the principal's role? What other stories don't get told enough? I'm all ears @district_doss.

Want to keep up with school district and leadership news? Follow @district_doss on Twitter.

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