Middle-Level Series Concludes

During the past few months, the Principals’ Office has featured the Middle-Level Blog Series, which addressed topics like bullying and technology from the particular view of the middle-level administrator. Mark Terry’s posting below will conclude the first installment of the Middle-Level Blog Series. But continue to check out the Principals’ Office blog for other series, like the one upcoming on Diverse Learning Communities, and for a continuation of the Middle-Level Blog Series this spring. 
Reversing Teacher Turnover
It is fast approaching the time of year when I dread having a teacher visit my office and ask to “speak with me for a moment.” Those words are often the precursor to a discussion about the teacher leaving our school. It can be one of your best teachers or one with whom you have been working to gracefully “exit” from the profession. But it is the loss of elite teachers, the master teachers, that causes me tremendous heartburn. It could be that they are leaving for a higher-paying position, they could be retiring, or they could be leaving the field. But, I work diligently to make sure they are not leaving because of a feeling of being underappreciated. This is especially important in a middle-level school, with its special challenges.
What ideas do you have to retain your best and brightest teachers?
Mark Terry is principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas, and is the Middle-Level Foundation Member on NAESP’s Board of Directors.

Financial Crunch

I am a middle school principal with 38 years in public education. My school is in a large district   that serves 63,000 students. We have lost millions of dollars from our budgets, with the expectation of losing millions more. So far at our middle school, we have lost 10 teachers, one school resource officer, four teacher assistants, two custodians, one secretary, and one cafeteria worker, with more cuts to follow. All administrators have taken a pay cut and more pay cuts will be scheduled next year. Our student-to-teacher ratio has increased, as have offerings to students.
Our sub budget and supply budgets have been cut in half (we can’t even have mini fridges anymore). Teachers are reluctant to miss days due to colleagues having to fill in for them. All sports programs have been cut. All district programs such as the science fair  and band/chorus concerts have been cut. There is no more textbook money and no more staff development, unless it is online or after school. The budget cuts have also affected our ability to conduct field trips. 
We don’t take checks from parents anymore because we have lost $1,000 due to bad checks. Parents don’t pay for lost or damaged textbooks due to their financial situations. We have had to be more energy conservative; we can’t stay late since all computers are turned off by 9 p.m., and we can’t come in on weekends to work.
I have just described what is going our school this year—next year it should be worse. Legislators have said there is plenty of money, but that we just don’t use it correctly. Our state is in a $2 billion deficit and education and social services will share most of the loss.
Right now our state and district are in a tremendous financial crunch, I’d like to know how other schools and districts are faring.  Leslie Potter is principal of Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida

Do You Wiki?

I recently attended a technology conference that may have been one of the most valuable conferences I have ever attended. It opened my eyes to the trends and the future of technology in education. At my school, we are contemplating the innovative use of technology and even the idea of computers for each of our students.
I am interested in knowing what other middle-level principals are doing to prepare for the future of technology in their schools. Are you or your teachers using blogs, wikis, or podcasts? Are you using cell phones, PDAs, or other personal technology devices in class? Do you provide one-to-one computers (laptops)? Are you seeing improvements in engagement and achievement, or just in engagement?
How are principals using technology for professional development?  Scott Schiller is assistant principal of Powell Middle School in Powell, Wyoming. 

Middle-Level Series

For the next few weeks, the Principals’ Office will feature a middle-level blog series, focusing on issues that especially impact students at the middle level, but that are also significant to all K-8 leaders. The first issue is bullying. 

When Is It Teasing and When Is It Bullying?

If you lead a middle school that is similar to the one in which I am principal, you may often hear a student in your office say, “I was only teasing/kidding/playing!” Sometimes the statement may be true, but more often than not the student really has been participating in the age-old activity of bullying.

Parents defend their bullying child by saying that he or she could never bully, that the other child may be jealous, or they may say, “boys will be boys.” Some of these parents were bullies as children.

But, what exactly is bullying? Is it a one-time event? Is it only physical? Or can it include verbal and social actions?

At our school, we continue to deal with kids who are bullies and we are taking a schoolwide approach to attacking the problem. First, we advertise our “no tolerance of bullying” policy to our kids and parents. Second, our character education program (Schools of FISH!) is taught each day with emphasis on treatment of others. Third, we have initiated a video-vignette program called Stories of Us that graphically records a long-term bullying scenario. Our counselor shows clips of the progressively intense bully episode and then follows with classroom discussions. Finally, we come down aggressively on violators.

Despite our best intentions, we continue to have problems with bullies because some parents cannot tell us who is bullying their child, other parents will do anything to deflect the blame toward their child, and bullying works for bullies!

What are you doing with your students? I’d love to know. 

Mark Terry is principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas, and is the Middle-Level Foundation Member on NAESP’s Board of Directors.