Kimberlyn Pratesi is principal of Dayton Oaks Elementary School in Ellicott City, Maryland
Last Thursday began as a typical day for me. After greeting children, talking to a bus driver, returning a phone message from a parent, and reviewing a budget report with the secretary, I began my daily classroom visits. That’s when I heard the dreaded two beeps on our PA system, my signal that a matter required my urgent attention.
I quickly went to the closest phone to call my secretary, bracing myself for the challenge of the day as my mind raced with thoughts. Is there an irate parent in the office who wants to see me? Does a staff member need assistance with a child? Is my family trying to reach me?
To my surprise, my secretary shared that Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals Executive Director Debbie Drown was on the line. Debbie knows principals value their time in classrooms, so I knew this interruption was of significance.
Debbie asked me if I was familiar with the Congressional testimony NAESP/MAESP member A. Blaine Hawley had shared the previous day. I had read Blaine’s speech and agreed with her stance on ESEA reauthorization and student evaluation. Debbie shared that a local radio station wanted to include a principal’s perspective on the issue during a live broadcast and invited me to participate.
I was surprised, excited, anxious, and happy to have this opportunity. Most of all, I was grateful to have the chance to address something that I feel passionate about.
I used NAESP resources to develop talking points, supported with examples from my own experiences. I felt it important to stress that principals support high standards and accountability, but a one-time summative test is not an effective way to measure the growth of a student or school. I wanted the audience to hear that behind every piece of data is a child, special and unique, with his or her own story.
As the producer called with a two-minute warning, my knees began to shake and I honestly wondered what I had gotten myself into, but that quickly changed with the host’s introduction. What I had gotten myself into began 22 years ago as I accepted the responsibility of advocating and supporting children.
The host listened intently as I discussed a reauthorized ESEA system that measures success by focusing on individual student growth rather than punitive labels for failure, sharing stories of children who failed the test, but had made 12-18 months of progress in a given school year. I also referenced students who experienced trauma and weren’t able to participate in testing, but had scores that counted towards overall school performance.
My colleagues who heard the interview were gracious with their feedback. But one comment from fellow MAESP member George Hohl resonated strongly: “Those 15 minutes of ‘air time’ may have done much more than we’ll ever know in positively shaping public opinion. Principals should always be the voice people hear!”