The Principals' Office Blog

To Skip a Grade or Not To Skip

Marty Nemko, author of the November/December Speaking Out article, writes that high-ability students are better off skipping a grade than remaining in the same grade in which the teacher would need to offer differentiated instruction. “Grade skipping instantly gives high-potential students a much more appropriate education without imposing more work on teachers than they’re likely to do,” the article states.
Are you more likely to encourage grade skipping or differentiated/gifted instruction in your school? What do you believe are the pros and cons of grade skipping?

Membership Has Its Privileges

Part of my objective in attending state conferences is to find out more about the challenges and issues schools around the nation face and learn more about state affiliates so that I can better represent principals as NAESP president. This week I attended a panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals (PAESSP) conference that addressed the rationale for becoming involved in professional organizations. The panelists highlighted gaining more information about education and professional resources, a greater sense of professionalism, and a clearer understanding of the power of the principal.
In addition to learning about the benefits of professional affiliation, I also had the opportunity to visit a local school and find out what’s on principals’ minds in Pennsylvania. On a tour of Park Forest Elementary School, I experienced the essence of being in tune with nature. This school’s K-5 students have taken full advantage of their park-like setting of being nestled in between rolling hills and tall trees. With grant funding they have created flower gardens, bird-viewing stations, vegetable gardens, a nature center, and an amphitheater. As we toured the manicured grounds and well-cared-for facility, the quality of care exhibited by the principal, staff, and students was evident. Education occurs on the outside as well as the inside of this school.
I also talked with PAESSP President Dave Bieri about what’s on a lot of principals’ minds: the flu season. Today the H1N1 vaccination became available in selected states across the country. Even though Bieri’s city, Scranton, Pennsylvania, is not a selected site for the first dose of the vaccination, school officials are working diligently to keep students healthy. School officials are working with school nurses to set up flu clinics during October, and students and staff are taking precautions to stay healthy. 
I enjoyed attending PAESSP’s conference because it offered opportunities for networking and professional growth. I look forward to updating you about my next trip.   

Building a Culture of Collaboration

Our Mentor Center principal, Jessica Johnson, provides her first entry:
Throughout my first year as an elementary principal, I spent much time observing and learning about the school, its culture, and its history, and changing the things I could not live with. I worked hard with staff throughout the year in staff meetings and leadership team meetings to begin change processes to implement this school year. I thought my second year as principal would get easier, but now that I know how much work has to be done, it seems I’m working even harder than before. I still have hope that the third year will get easier.
Some changes at our school this year include: beginning stages of response to intervention and positive behavioral interventions and supports, school celebration assemblies, having the secretary manage my schedule and sort my mail, and meeting with each teacher to discuss his or her  professional goals to tailor my classroom walkthrough feedback to individual goals. One other major change is providing biweekly substitute coverage (using ARRA stimulus funds) to allow grade levels to meet for collaboration during the school day. I have provided teachers with a meeting protocol to follow and take notes on that follows Dufour’s guiding questions for a professional learning community. I have found that some grade levels truly collaborate and accomplish great things together; however, other grade levels do not stay student focused or data-driven and revert back to venting or chatting if I’m not there to keep them on track.
I’m hoping administrators can offer some strategies or resources to help build the collaboration among grade levels so they are focused on student learning as a team, even when I’m not there in the meeting to monitor. I appreciate your input and hope that everyone is off to a great new school year!

Pennsylvania Principals Hone Their Skills at State Conference

In putting their theme “We are … Leaders of Learning” into practice, more than 400 educators from across the state have gathered at the Penn Stater Conference Center in State College for the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals conference.
I’m here to represent NAESP and to find out more about the challenges and issues schools face in the Keystone State. So far, principals have been motivated by keynoter Neila Connors, with her witty sense of humor, one-liners, and enthusiasm. Connors is the author of If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers (Kids’ Stuff).
The opening banquet honored the Pennsylvania National Distinguished Principal (NDP) as well as other educators who are making a difference in Pennsylvania. The NDP will be recognized October 22-23 in Washington, D.C.
Tomorrow, Doug Reeves will provide insight about data analysis and Charlotte Danielson will discuss conducting professional conversations and making the most of teacher evaluations. Attorney David Andrews will provide legal updates on Tuesday during the fourth general session. 

Meet This Year’s Mentor Center Principal

Jessica Johnson has been selected as the Mentor Center principal for the 2009-2010 school year and seeks your advice and feedback as she embarks on her third year in the principalship. Johnson is principal of Dodgeland Elementary School in rural Juneau, Wisconsin. The student population comprises about 390 students in 4-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade, including an early childhood program for children ages 3-5 with special needs.

Before becoming principal of Dodgeland Elementary in 2008, she served as an assistant principal in a large district of 22 schools in Phoenix, where she had a network of many administrators to call upon for advice. Now, she works in a one-building school district in which she is the only elementary principal.
Follow Johnson throughout the school year as she asks for suggestions of veteran principals. Her entries will be published in Communicator as well as right here on the Principals’ Office blog, where you’ll be able reply to her directly.

Convention Early Bird Registration Deadline Extended to Oct. 9

This just in … The early bird registration deadline for NAESP’s annual convention has been extended to Oct. 9.
Don’t miss out on this chance to save on registration and housing. Teams of three or more can register for only $130 a person – a savings of more than $100! You don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to hone the tools to lead learning in your school. With more than 80 education sessions, you and your school will reap the benefits of best practices, success stories, tools, and practical solutions. You will also have the opportunity to turn your biggest challenges into your greatest accomplishments when you learn from the experts, leaders in the field, and fellow practitioners.

School Improvement Grant Proposal Penalizes Principals

As part of the new School Improvement Grant (SIG) proposal, Secretary Duncan would require low-performing schools receiving SIG funds to implement one of four reform models. Two of the models would require the dismissal of the principal. The other two models would likely result in the dismissal of the principal. Comments on the Department of Education’s proposed changes to the SIG program are due this week.
NAESP will submit comments this week with this clear message: Automatically replacing principals of low-performing schools is likely to be hasty and unwarranted. The better solution is to ensure that all principals  have the time, talent, and tools they need to succeed.
NAESP encourages all principals to review the secretary’s proposal and to submit comments by the Sept. 25, 2009 deadline. Review the complete proposal and find instructions for submitting comments on the proposal here.

Farewell to Australia

The 2009 Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) Conference ended on a high note with keynote presenters who continued the theme of surfing, touching on the benefits of taking care of yourself and fostering better relationships with staff and students. For example, Tim Sharpe gave us great pointers for pursuing happiness. Of course, I thought of Chris Gardner, author of The Pursuit of Happyness, who will present during NAESP's convention in Houston

It was incredible seeing principals wearing the “Proud to be a Principal” pins that I distributed and wanting to attend NAESP’s convention in April. Before I sign off from down under, I want to thank Leonie Trimpe and her marvelous staff at APPA for their gracious hospitality and for sharing an ocean of possibilities while “surfing waves of hope” for children of Australia and the world. Until next time ... Cheers!

Schools Around the World

Today I had the opportunity to visit some local schools. After talking at length to Rochelle, who is a deputy principal in a small school in Queenland, I immediately recognized the impact of the power of the principal. In Queenland, schools with more than 150 students receive deputy principals. There have been many changes in the leadership at Rochelle's school of 400 students. As a result, programs and attitudes are taking a positive turn at the school. Rochelle is hoping the school continues to progress throughout the leadership transition.
I also met Jenine, who is a deputy principal at a large school of 1,000 in Brisbane. At her school, there are three deputies, a head principal, and a curriculum director. The staff also includes ESL teachers and assistants for the students who speak native languages. The student population is made up of many ethnicities, including a large Asian population. Though students are very successful on state tests, as a whole, Queenland has not performed as well as other states. Australia is looking to combine state curricula into one country curriculum. Does that sound familiar? Government officials from each state would help determine the country curriculum. It really is a small world! 

Making Aussie Connections

I think I am finally adjusting to the time change; Australia is a day ahead of the U.S. We lost a  day coming, but will gain it back on the return trip. I am fascinated that we have traveled so far and still hear English spoken everywhere. It’s like we never left the country, except everything is in metrics and you hear “proper” English. I was excited to find that Australians look and dress like Westerners and that there are many Pacific Islanders and Asians who live here.
People here are friendly and know immediately that you are an American. I’ve talked to many educators who have traveled to the states and have relatives and friends who live in America. One principal told me she taught one year in North Carolina as part of an exchange program, and that she made life-long friends there. I invited her to our convention in Houston. My hostess, Janice, is a principal from Canberra. I found out that her brother is a professor in Columbus, Ohio—it really is a small world!

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