The Principals' Office Blog

Unleashing the Extraordinary

NAESP and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) are united on two major issues that resonated throughout the NASSP convention, which was held March 12-14 in Phoenix:

  1. Principals’ voices must be heard as new policies are being formulated in Washington, D.C.  Principals must make a difference by being actively engaged in the wording of the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Principals should contact their congressional representatives to let their voices be heard.
  2. Principals are innovative and creative in raising student achievement and keeping their communities actively engaged in the learning process. NASSP’s convention speakers highlighted numerous examples of principals who are making a difference against incredible odds. For example, Pedro Noguera talked about P.S. #28 in New York City, which is a highly effective school in which more than 50 percent of the student population is homeless. Innovations that this school’s principal has tried include making available parent rooms and programs for parents to receive their GED and emphasizing the need to keep parents engaged in their children’s education. 

Dr. Benjamin Carson, a renowned surgeon, challenged principals to speak up for their rights, telling a story about a young man who had purchased expensive, exotic birds that could sing and talk. The young man sent two of the expensive birds to his mother and asked her what she thought of them. She proudly announced that they were good, as she had eaten them for dinner! The young man was astounded that she had eaten the birds. But his mother retorted, “If the birds were so smart and could talk, they should have said something.” His story made us laugh, but it also made us think. Unless we want to end up in a stew, we had better say something! Let your voice be heard!
    —Diane Cargile, NAESP President

Educate Girls, Change Society

Over the past two decades, renowned philanthropist Greg Mortenson has built schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan and promoted community based education and literacy, especially for girls. Mortenson will be a keynote speaker at NAESP’s 89th Annual Convention and Exposition (April 8-11 in Houston), and he recently sat down with NAESP’s Executive Director Gail Connelly to discuss his work and the two women who inspired him to undertake it.
After his sister Christa died from epilepsy in 1992, Greg decided to honor her memory by climbing Pakistan’s K2 mountain. He failed to reach the mountain’s peak and stumbled into the remote village of Korphe, where he was surprised to discover that the village lacked a school. “I saw 84 children writing with sticks in the sand and there was no teacher there, which really struck me … And so I made a rash promise to help them build a school,” said Mortenson.
Back in the United States, Greg struggled to raise the $12,000 he needed to undertake the project. He wrote 580 letters to celebrities explaining the project and his need for money but only received one check. He began working double shifts as a nurse to try and generate the needed revenue when his mother, Dr. Jerene Mortenson, invited him to speak at the elementary school where she served as a principal.
“It was the first time I had spoken to anybody [about the project], and heaven forbid you go to an elementary school to raise money,” said Mortenson. “But what happened was a fourth grader named Jeffrey came up to me and he said ‘I have a penny back at home and I’m going to help you.’ And I didn’t think much about it but then they [the students] raised 62,345 pennies.”
The money the students raised helped Greg reach $12,000, and he constructed the school for Korphe. Inspired by the philanthropic potential of students, Greg established “Pennies for Peace,” a service-learning program that is currently in place at over 4,000 schools. The program comes with lesson plans and study guides that are designed to help students broaden their cultural horizons as they give to those in need.
As he continues to promote community-based education in some of the most remote regions of the world, Greg is adamant about the importance of giving children, especially girls, the opportunity to learn. “In Africa, as a child, I learned a proverb: If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you can educate a girl, you educate a community,” he said. “If we don’t educate girls, nothing will change as a society.”
You can listen go Greg and Gail’s entire conversation on NAESP Radio.

Federal Update: Draft Common Standards Released

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, established to develop rigorous standards to identify what children across our nation should know and be able to do, has released its draft standards for K-12 education for public review and comment.
We seek your feedback as we prepare to submit comments on the draft K-12 Common Standards. We strongly encourage principals to review the standards and post comments below. You may also submit your comments by e-mail to Please submit your comments to NAESP by Friday, March 26 to help inform our formal response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. (Should you wish to submit your own comments, they are due to Common Core by April 2, 2010).
The Common Core initiative was established by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as a means of enabling states and regions to voluntarily adopt rigorous academic standards that would be used to benchmark students from across the country on their college and career readiness. NAESP has supported this initiative since its inception and now eagerly looks forward to reviewing the proposed standards.

Federal Update: Race to the Top Finalists Announced

Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced 15 states and Washington, D.C., as the first-round finalists for the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant award. The finalists are: Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The finalists will be invited to the Education Department later this month to give a presentation on their plans for school reform efforts.
RTTT was created in the stimulus bill last year and funded with $5 billion to address school reform efforts across the country. Final awardees will be announced in April.
Here are excerpts from the comments about RTTT that NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly submitted on behalf of more than 60,000 elementary principals nationwide:
NAESP supports the use of student achievement data to inform and improve instructional practices. However, an over-reliance on student standardized test scores for evaluating teacher and principal performance does not take into account improved student progress in light of challenging circumstances that confront students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The research is clear that a quality education must meet the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic needs of the whole child and involves much more than student performance on a single test once a year.
Our nation's reform agenda certainly depends on a comprehensive plan that will support and empower effective principals and ultimately result in student success. However, NAESP cannot support the department’s recommendation to judge principal effectiveness “in significant measure” on student achievement data that relies primarily on standardized test scores. 
NAESP strongly encourages the department to require that states supplement student standardized assessment data with additional measures of student growth. Principal effectiveness should also be judged on multiple measures that include a variety of academic and non-academic indicators of student growth as well as demonstrated competencies of effective leadership.

Power of the Principal

Principals have the power to help change lives—and NAESP wants to call attention to the diverse and influential roles that principals play in their schools and communities. In the March/April issue of Principal, we published an article titled “Leadership Matters” that reveals what some principals believe are the most powerful aspects of their jobs.
“The power of the principal is part of the foundation of our position and, when used well, it has no boundaries to the positive effects it can bring to children,” wrote Oregon principal Barbara Chester.
Added Kansas principal Deborah Ayers-Geist: “I have the power to be the voice for our children at the state and national level. It is important that our legislators hear what our children have to say.  I hope that by being a powerful advocate for our children that one day they can be the voice and power for many more young people.”
What are your views about a principal’s power? How have you seen principals use their power to better the lives of children?

What’s Your Reason?

Engaging professional development. Interacting with colleagues from around the country. Numerous relevant resources. Networking.  Top-notch keynote speakers.
These are just a few of the reasons why principals say they choose to attend NAESP’s Annual Convention and Exposition year after year. We called on convention attendees to respond to this month’s My Two Cents question, which asked: What’s the No. 1 reason why you’ve chosen to attend NAESP’s convention over the years?
In addition to the responses published in the March/April issue of Principal, here’s a sample of what your colleagues are saying:
I attend the NAESP conference because it gives me the best opportunity to learn from my colleagues and to have time to reflect on how this learning can influence my practice. Formal sessions, informal conversations and professional reading are the perfect mix for my continued growth as the lead learner of my building.Jason Bednar, PrincipalOwen ElementaryNaperville, IL
Having attended the past several NAESP conventions over the years has been very beneficial to me professionally. The #1 reason that I attend is to learn new ways to motivate myself, which in turn gives me fresh new ideas on how to motivate my students and staff. Motivation results in hard work. This generates success.Barry Goolsby, Elementary PrincipalMyrtle Attendance CenterMyrtle, MS
Read more responses and offer your own thoughts below on what you’ve most benefited from by attending NAESP’s annual convention.

Shying Away From Instructional Leadership

The author of the latest Speaking Out article purposefully leaves instructional leadership in the hands of his teachers to allow those “in the trenches” to have decision-making abilities about curriculum content. “I am the first to admit, and proudly, that I am not the instructional leader of the school,” veteran principal Don Sternberg wrote. “I never have been nor will I ever be that person. I am, plain and simply, the instructional manager.”
He goes on to write: The last time I was in a classroom teaching for an entire school year was more than 28 years ago. How could I possibly be the instructional leader when I have not been in the trenches for 28 years? I have charted our course and manage the day-to-day functioning via the feedback from those who have contact with students every day.” 
Do you agree with this concept? Based on the author’s distinction, are you an instructional leader or an instructional manager?

Long-Term Plans

All school year, our Mentor Center principal Jessica Johnson has sought your advice as she progresses through her third year in the principalship. This entry addresses how to implement long-term plans:
In my first year as principal at our school, I often felt stressed and overwhelmed at the amount of work needed to get our school on the right path. I formed a leadership team, created time for grade-level meetings, established professional learning communities, and began educating staff on response to intervention. In February 2009, I attended a statewide RTI summit; however, since our school was so behind on the path to having any sort of RTI plan, I felt out of place and overwhelmed by the summit sessions.
We started small at our school with a voluntary book study over the summer and then formed an RTI team in the fall to attend additional RTI trainings to learn together, present to staff, and begin creating a plan for our school. 
Last month, I attended another state conference and attended many sessions on RTI again. This time, I was relieved and reassured as I listened to speakers and saw what other schools in the state are implementing because I could finally identify with what some of the other schools are doing. Even though we still have a lot of work to do, I feel like we are on the right path now and are making some positive changes to impact our students.
The difficult part of this process is remembering that change is a process and it won’t happen overnight. The literature I’ve read says this is a two- to three-year process. This is also a major change in both philosophy and practice for many teachers.
How do you keep the process moving forward with momentum, but not too fast to overwhelm staff?

The Education Department’s Vision for ESEA

In the first afternoon session of NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference (FRC) on Monday, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, talked with attendees about the Obama administration’s “Cradle to Career” education strategy and her vision for ESEA reauthorization. A former principal and school superintendent, Meléndez reinforced the administration’s verbal support for principals. She also discussed what it was like to grow up as an English-language learner in Los Angeles and how her experiences as a student inform her current vision for education policy.
Meléndez is the highest ranking official from the Department of Education to ever address the Federal Relations Conference, and while NAESP’s priorities are not always reflected in the Department of Education’s proposals, we appreciate this department’s outreach efforts and willingness to invite organizations such as ours to the discussion table. NAESP’s advocacy team believes it is important to stay in contact with the Department of Education about the concerns and needs of principals because if Congress fails to reauthorize ESEA within the next year, the Department of Education will be the only federal body able to give principals relief from the stringent and sometimes unreasonable sanctions currently mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

ESEA Panel Round Two: Where’s the Money? 

Policy discussions that take place in Washington, D.C., often neglect to address one of the most important aspects dictated by federal legislation: the flow of money from the federal level down to the building level. At the second panel of NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference, which discussed state perspectives on ESEA’s reauthorization, one attendee summed up the frustration felt by many school principals across the country when he told the panelists that no matter what type of legislation Congress passes, funding never seems to reach the building level where it is needed the most.
“When I go to Capitol Hill, I tell legislators don’t give money to the states or school districts, give it to me, give it directly to schools, because we are the ones who are underfunded,” said the attendee.
Nancy Reder, the deputy executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, argued that federal funding for education is often wasted on endless data collection that rarely improves outcomes for students. She urged principals to tell their congressman to stop funding data collection that has not been proven to catalyze reform. Adam Ezring, the senior advocacy associate for the Council of Chief State School Officers, echoed this sentiment and added that data collecting and reporting efforts should be streamlined at the state and federal levels and that the Department of Education needs to establish a single office where all data collected by states can be sent and processed.
As an organization that maintains a strong presence in Washington and stays in contact with principals across the country on a daily basis, NAESP understands that federal education legislation is useless, unless it gives individual schools the funding and tools needed to improve student outcomes. As ESEA reauthorization moves forward, NAESP’s advocacy team will continue to protect the interests of individual principals who are looking to the federal government for help.

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