The Principals' Office Blog

Doing Whatever It Takes

To the delight of many students, principals nationwide are submitting to the silly, outlandish, and sometimes embarrassing activities that they promised if students reached a predetermined goal. Shaving or dyeing their hair, eating worms, spending time on the school’s roof, getting a pie (or two) in the face, and sitting in dunk tank are among some of the ideas that principals and their students have come up with.

The goals principals give their students vary from surpassing a fundraising goal to doing well on state exams. “It’s important to have fun at school as well as work really hard,” said principal Candy McCarthy, who recently spent five hours atop her school for her students. “It motivates [the students]. It’s just something silly and crazy,” she added

McCarthy certainly is not alone. What other ideas have you come up with over the years to motivate your students? What are the funniest you’ve heard or read about?

Is NCLB Working?

According to a new report from the Center on Education Policy, NCLB is working. The report says that students have made significant gains in math and reading since the passage of NCLB; and achievement gaps between white and minority students have closed somewhat since 2002. But while students have improved basic skills, the report concedes that only 13 states have enough data to compare rates of improvement before and after the law was passed.

While the CEP report shows student achievement gains since NCLB was implemented, it seems the law still lacks public support. Two out of three Americans want Congress to rewrite or abolish NCLB, according to a Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University survey. Survey respondents who have children in public schools are more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school.

No More Sniffles

Hawaii just announced that beginning this fall it will offer free flu vaccinations to all elementary and intermediate school students, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. State superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she is recommending each of her principals to schedule a vaccination clinic. “Providing free and easy access to full vaccines for our students will mean fewer sick days and more quality time for classroom learning,” she said.

Nationally, 152 children in the United States died in the 2003-2004 flu season, many of whom were healthy and not in a high-risk group. At $2.5 million, such a program cannot be easily replicated in other school systems. However, there are still steps schools can take to prevent the spread of the illness once flu season begins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a variety of sources for schools at

Where Have All the Principals Gone?

The shortage of principals is a subject often discussed. As more baby boomer principals plan for retirement and as the job of principals becomes more demanding and complex, the question that keeps being asked is who will replace outgoing principals. Superintendents and principals weigh in on this very important issue in an article in Edutopia magazine.

The article references past studies about the principal shortage, including one commissioned by NAESP and NASSP in 1998, and a more recent one by the Northeast Regional Elementary School Principals' Council, which found that more than 36 percent of principals in nine northeastern states plan to retire within the next five years.

The article also looks at how some school districts are getting creative in their effort to fill principal positions, including mentoring programs for aspiring principals. (Although not mentioned in the article, NAESP offers the PALS (Peer Assisted Leadership Services) program, which trains experienced school leaders to mentor new and aspiring principals.)   

In the Edutopia article, California superintendent Paul Mercier says the bottom line is that principals must be trained, and feel supported and part of a team. “A superintendent must create a culture that is all about solving problems together,” says Mercier. “The single most important thing we can do to bring in and support new principals is make sure that they don't feel they’re out there all by themselves.”

Share the Dream

NAESP, in partnership with the MetLife Foundation, offers Sharing the Dream grants, which help principals fund parent and community engagement efforts in their schools. Since 2004, grants have been allocated to principals and their schools throughout the nation to develop projects that improve their relationships with parents, create a welcoming school climate, and connect students and families with needed resources.

Last year, 30 principals were awarded with grants. This year’s deadline for applications is June 8. Use this opportunity to further engage your school with the community. Applications are available at

Double Take

More and more twins, triplets, and other multiple-birth children are seen in school buildings these days, and it seems that principals face the dilemma of whether to keep siblings in the same classes throughout the year. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, 21 states have either passed legislation or are considering laws concerning twins or other multiples in schools. Parents appear to be adamant one way or the other about how to place their children, so legislators have sided with them by proposing laws that would leave the decision in the hands of the parents.

There is no cut-and-dry research as to whether it is better to separate multiples or keep them together in the classroom, which makes the issue a bit complex. It would be interesting to know what some principals’ experiences have been with multiples in their schools.

Immigrant Students Fear Raids

Moving story in yesterday’s New York Times about the plight of immigrant students. “Immigration Raid Leaves Sense of Dread in Hispanic Students” tells the story of high school students in Willmar, Minn., who juggle state tests, jobs, and the constant fear of immigration raids.

Bee Season

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is coming up at the end of the month with its usual fanfare. But one teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School will not be mimicking spelling contests in her first-grade class because she thinks “they honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction.” Read last week’s Washington Post article that states that even though spelling bees have become very popular, the teaching of spelling has been overlooked because it is not covered on high-stakes tests. 

History 101

Although fourth- and eighth-grade history scores have improved overall, neither grade saw an increase in students grasping more than a basic comprehension of the subject. A recent government report reveals that the best results were in fourth grade, where 70 percent of students attained the basic level of achievement or better. The report also indicates that the progress in history in general was made by students working at the lowest levels.There are mixed feelings about what these results imply. On the one hand, some argue that this shows that NCLB’s focus on reading and math instruction is taking away from other subjects such as history. But on the other hand, the focus on reading may be what is helping the lower-level students to increase their scores in other subjects.

Equity Evolving as a Public Promise for Education

Education leaders are moving to a different conception of what it means to preserve the promise of equity in public schools, according to Claus von Zastrow, executive director of Learning First Alliance (LFA). A 2021 vision of equity would be that all students have the widest view of choices before them. “Someone’s socioeconomic background should not determine education level or career choice or life enrichment,” von Zastrow said.

Preserving the promise of equity is emerging as a top strategic issue for the Vision 2021 project. NAESP is one of 17 national education organizations in LFA, which recently reviewed the key policy documents of its member organizations to prepare for a March 2007 summit on the future of public education. Equity is a common thread among the leading education organizations.

LFA has advocated for staffing high poverty schools with high performance leaders. “The poorest kids and children of color are more likely to get leaders and teachers who are less experienced and paid less,” von Zastrow said.

LFA has also found through its public opinion research that equal opportunity is fundamental. “The public really believes that equal opportunity is one of the primary goals of public education. It is one of the reasons why we need public education,” he said.

“Equity is an evolving conversation. Equity does not necessarily mean that we give everyone equal resources. It does mean we make sure that all students get resources adequate to their educational needs,” von Zastrow said.

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