The Principals' Office Blog

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.

FRC Kicks Off With Advocacy Priorities and Local Perspectives

At the Federal Relations Conference’s opening meeting, Executive Director Gail Connelly and Deputy Executive Director Mike Schooley discussed NAESP’s legislative goals for the upcoming year and summed up NAESP’s central tenet in one simple sentence: Principals need the autonomy and the authority to lead strong schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “There are no good schools without good principals.” Keeping the secretary’s position in mind, NAESP believes that it is imperative to include policies in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that support rather than hinder principals’ ability to do their jobs.
NAESP is working in conjunction with other education associations to prevent policies that compromise principals’ autonomy and policies that tie principals’ and teachers’ job security solely to standardized test scores from ever becoming law. During the conference’s opening panel, representatives from the National Education Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and the International Reading Association stressed that the needs of students—and not the goals of politicians—must drive ESEA reauthorization. NAESP is fighting for the inclusion of policies that provide funding for principals’ professional development and policies that meet the needs of the whole child. 
Schooley closed the opening remarks by outlining “four M’s” that NAESP and its members will be focusing on in the upcoming months: minimizing the inclusion of bad policy in education bills, maneuvering at the state and local levels, motivating constituents to get involved, and maximizing the pressure on lawmakers to support smart education policy. Reauthorization of ESEA, a bill that affects all principals on a daily basis, is a deliberate process (the first group of panelists predicted ESEA reauthorization would not occur until 2011), but concerted efforts at the federal level can positively influence the development of this legislation.

Yearly Federal Relations Conference Gathers Principals to Talk ESEA, Early Childhood

This Sunday, Jan. 31 marks the start of NAESP’s Federal Relations Conference (FRC), the purpose of which is to bring representatives from all fifty states to Washington to meet with legislators on Capitol Hill and discuss pending legislation.
The focus of this year’s conference is professional development for principals. With reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on the legislative horizon, NAESP wants to ensure that any new legislation will provide funding for programs that will improve principals’ development as education leaders. We know that second only to teaching, the most effective means to improving student academic performance is strong school leadership, and to institute the commitment required to lead learning communities and dramatically improve student achievement, principals require significant training and support.
With the help of NAESP’s advocacy team, FRC attendees will push for professional development opportunities in two specific areas: early childhood development and high-quality mentoring programs.  Research has proven that effective pre-kindergarten programs increase students’ chances of graduating from high school and attending college, and now more than ever, elementary school principals are actively engaged in early childhood learning. Unfortunately, many principal preparation programs and school systems currently lack sufficient training to teach principals how to design and lead quality early childhood programs. To reverse this trend, new policies in the ESEA reauthorization must include program strategies to create comprehensive early childhood programs.
Throughout the conference’s duration (Jan. 31 to Feb 2), NAESP will be blogging about pertinent discussions and activities. Follow us on the Principals' Office and Twitter, and learn more about the FRC by visiting our Web site.

Start the Year With Professional Development

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principals’ Mid-Winter Conference, which began with a rousing rendition of the Oklahoma state song and the pledge of allegiance. Veteran principals Bobby Simma and Gary Webb rallied members with reasons to belong to their state and national associations in their self-composed song on membership. The professional sounding production had the quality of a CD ready for marketing. If you have not heard Simma and Webb sing this song, you may be able to catch them at NAESP’s 89th Convention & Exposition April 8-11 in Houston.
Principals in Oklahoma began the year honing professional development skills. The two-day conference provided opportunities for professional growth for principals in leading professional development communities. Solution Tree’s Tim Brown related his personal experience of turning around a low performing school and issued the challenge for principals to be “engines of hope.” Cathy Williams provided insight into leading teachers to use mapping. She also shared a clip of Dalton Sherman's passionate plea to teachers to “believe in him and other children like him.” This clip would be a great way to begin a school year and to challenge teachers to make a difference for all the children they serve. 
Finally, Crystal Kuykendall closed the conference by bringing out the best in everyone. Her motivational presentation brought principals to their feet as she challenged them to be “Merchants of Hope” for the young children we serve. Kuykendall offered real solutions to educators for the future.  She was just the inspiration principals needed to return to their buildings and complete the work they have started. 
When your superintendent wants to know why you want to attend an association meeting provided by your state or NAESP, you can list real skills, strategies, and tools that you will receive that you cannot get in your building. If we are to be the change agent for our schools, principals much be provided the tools from professional sources. Oklahoma principals are doing just that!

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