Pennsylvania Principal Melissa Patschke is attending NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference this week and will be sharing her experience in the Principals’ Office.

What we, as school principals, do each day to support schools, children, and families is valuable information for those influencing critical legislative decisions that promise to, and historically have, impacted our schools. Each principal’s story, whether it is related to progress, boundaries, or celebrations, deserves to be shared. Uniting in Washington, D.C., with the outstanding talents of the NAESP staff, board members, and state representatives from across the country, allows issues, critical to elementary principals, take center stage before federal legislators.

Today, our nation’s K-8 principals took the time to prepare and understand current issues impacting “what’s best for children and schools.” During a welcoming message, NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly quoted President Barack Obama by reminding us all that “The future is ours to win.” She went on to remind us that it takes “strong principals to make strong schools.” Gracefully, Gail connected these statements of impact to the importance of our upcoming education-related advocacy and the messages we will convey during our discussions on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

NAESP provided principals with direct connections to those who work daily with and understand the heart of federal-level decisions. After enjoying coffee will fellow principals, I listened closely to diverse and interesting panel presentations. The first panel offered a direct view of what’s happening with ESEA reauthorization from the lens of the congressional offices. The second was a cross-representation of major educational lobby groups, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Educational Association, and the National School Boards Association.

Among the panelists in the first discussion were Lindsay Hunsicker, senior education policy adviser to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee,and Jamie Fasteau, senior education policy adviser to Rep. George Miller (D-California) on the House Education and Labor Committee. They shared their insights about what is known on the Hill and what needs to be done to ensure ESEA is modified well. Several points that I felt were imperative:  1) Everyone at the federal level knows that the current law is disliked and must change, 2) There is a recognized effort to make the language and details of the next ESEA reauthorization more user-friendly—all stakeholders of a school community should be able to understand the legislation and be vested in the success of schools, and 3) Legislators are seeking the right balance between formula funding and competitive grants—one area of consideration is the consolidation of educational programs or initiatives, which will allow federal monies to be used more effectively to help schools and children.

The panelists were asked when the ESEA reauthorization would be completed; the hope is that decisions will be made by or before September 2011. Finally, with such wide differences across our country in schools, resources, and populations, the panelists shared their advice to principals, which was to become champions at the state and local levels on topics that are the closest to the heart of their own schools.

The second panel comprised key lobbyists representing major partner educational associations. Although there were differences in each association’s platform, there were many areas of consistent agreement among the panelists. Some of the themes that I found of most interest involved:  1) The need for strong, reliable, and trustworthy evaluation systems for educators that are partnered with authentic professional development opportunities, and 2) Diminishing the federal government’s influence and control over state and local governing of schools—the top-down implementation approach is a huge concern for the future of our nation’s schools.

 The question of “What’s Next?” was discussed and the answer was clear: We need our Congressional members to take action on the ESEA reauthorization, not just continue talking.