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The Principals' Office Blog

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

Appreciating the Principal

Father’s Day, Administrative Assistant’s Day, Women’s History Month … the list goes on. Now we can add Virginia Principals Appreciation Week! Governor Timothy M. Kaine has declared January 12-16, 2009, Principals Appreciation Week.
This statewide public acknowledgement of the important role that principals play in their school communities, helping students achieve bright futures, formally recognizes principals for all they do. Read the proclamation. Hopefully, more states will formally recognize principals in this way.
How do you think Principal Appreciation Week should be celebrated?

Promote Reading Aloud at Your School

For three years, NAESP has been promoting reading aloud to students through the its annual Principal’s Read Aloud Award program.
Check out the five nominated books and vote for the one you think should be honored with the award. Voting has been extended to Friday, Jan. 16. There will be a presentation to the winning author in April 2009 during NAESP’s Annual Convention and Exposition in New Orleans.
The National Principals Resource Center offers all five titles at reasonable rates—buy them for your school library if you don’t already have them. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to offer your students another avenue to improving reading skills!

Obama Nominates Next U.S. Education Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has tapped Chicago Public Schools executive Arne Duncan as the next U.S. education secretary. For the past seven years, Duncan has served as superintendent of the nation’s third largest school system. Before that, he was the deputy chief of staff for the Chicago public school system.
Duncan’s stances on education transformation suggest that at the federal policy level America’s schools are in for much-needed change over the coming months and years. How do you feel about having a former superintendent as the next head of the U.S. Department of Education? What are your hopes for this next era in education?

Share Your Best Advice

The My Two Cents question for this month is: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received from a peer or mentor, and how have you applied it in your career?
In addition to the responses published in the January/February issue of Principal, here’s what some of your colleagues have shared with us:
When someone makes a quick request in the hall or while you are walking with someone, your response should be “Let me think about that and I will get back to you.” With that response each time, I found I thought about what was our mission, did this align with our goals, and did we need to make a quick decision that was not an emergency. Interestingly, my staff appreciated the time I took and respected my decision when we discussed the rationale!
Nancy S. FrenettePrincipal Braintree Elementary SchoolBraintree, Vermont
Every principal should allocate a certain amount of time—whether it’s 8, 12, or 15 hours a day—that they will normally spend doing their work. And when that time is up, leave and enjoy home, family, or other activities. If you do, you will find that you tend to be more energetic, prioritize your work flow, minimize your distractions, and accomplish more over time. I have followed this principle every day of my life as a principal. 
Jim BaldwinPrincipalCentre Ridge Elementary SchoolCentreville, Virginia
Add to the conversation by offering your best advice with fellow principals.

Stop Making Assumptions!

In the latest edition of Speaking Out, the author argues that educators should not disenfranchise their students—even those labeled “at-risk.” Take a look at the article and let us know what you think.
Do you agree that many educators’ assumptions about, and the labels given to, young students impede their ability to be effective in the classroom?

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.

What Does Election Day Look Like in Your School?

During the past few months, if not the past year, elementary and middle schools across the country have discussed the 2008 presidential election to various degrees. We’ve received e-mails about the different ways in which the election process has been taught in a number schools. For example, last spring a principal in Pennsylvania tied in NAESP’s 2008 Principals Read Aloud Award with primary election day by having her students vote for their favorite book.

And in Atlanta, a debate class at Ron Clark Academy came up with this get-out-the-vote song whose lyrics include the issues discussed by both presidential candidates.

What has your school done to teach students about the election process? What creative activities have your students participated in leading up to this historic Election Day?

Good Teachers Don’t Need Research-based Programs

Have you read the latest Speaking Out article in Principal magazine? Author Carolyn Bunting argues that principals should rely less on the use of research-based programs in the classroom and instead allow good teachers to simply teach. “Good teaching is too diverse to be captured in prescribed programs, no matter what the research may say,” Bunting writes. “A better alternative is to give teachers the time and resources to find their own way.”

She adds: “The process begins with principals trusting their teachers and themselves. Then begins the slow and careful work of giving teachers the breathing room they need to develop independently.”

Do you agree with Bunting? Are your teachers locked in to research-based programs? Do you believe classroom instruction would improve if teachers were allowed to use their own methods?

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