Principal, January/February 2011

My Two Cents

What do you think are the risks of the concept of teacher-run schools?

The current initiative to place a team of teachers in charge of a school in lieu of the principal causes me great concern. I believe there needs to be one “go-to” leader—the one who holds responsibility for oversight of the entire school community, its culture, goals, vision, and direction. A committee of teachers, who hold their own responsibilities directly connected to student success and achievement, certainly must maintain that priority.
Jill Flanders, Principal, Plains Elementary School, South Hadley Massachusetts

The primary principal’s role, I believe, is to make sure schools have the best teachers possible, to support them and make them feel valued. These teachers are then motivated and encouraged to serve as leaders within the building and district. Without a building principal to build and reinforce this foundation, I would be
concerned that the structure could crumble. Teacher leadership is crucial for successful schools, but so is administrative leadership to support this.
Dianne Helprin, Principal, Pemetic Elementary School, Southwest Harbor, Maine

Read more responses—and submit your own—by visiting the Principals’ Office.

Research Digest

Turning Around Failing School Districts
Why do state efforts to improve struggling school districts fail so often? That question lies at the heart of a report published by the Center for American Progress examining the educational, political, and organizational pitfalls that prevent state interventions in struggling school districts from meeting their stated goals.

The report reveals that state interventions often fail because state and district officials do not communicate the goals of the interventions to the public. The lack of communications creates mistrust in some cases and unrealistic expectations in others. As a result, the proposed reforms often fail to garner support from members of school districts and their surrounding communities. The report begins with a story about how a state department of education had to completely revise its plans to turn around an urban school district after a group of parents angrily objected to the plans.

According to the report, state departments of education tend to rush the implementation of selected models for turning around schools rather than closely examining the reasons students are underachieving and carefully choosing models to address these issues.

To fix these problems and develop methods for effectively turning around low-performing schools, states need to develop comprehensive reform strategies that take into account the organizational and political challenges that will inevitably face any proposed reform, the report says. Also, states must be willing and capable to make corrections to their intervention strategies during the implementation process and have an explicit and transparent exit strategy laid out.

The report shows the importance of engaging school boards, teachers, and members of local communities and getting these individuals to buy into proposed intervention strategies. Empowering local communities to become capable of sustaining changes brought about by state interventions is a critical component of the school turnaround process.

In the report, states are credited with having a good track record at performing “triage” or putting basic systems into place in school districts that are struggling. However, state departments of education need to learn how to create foundations for educational improvements that school districts can build on long after interventions are completed. Read the full report at

Promising Practices

AT OUR SCHOOL, we develop leadership skills, starting with each child developing self-leadership skills. All staff are welcome and empowered to develop their leadership ability and contribute their expertise for the betterment of the school. I practice a servant leadership approach and staff know that they can count on me to
get what they need to do their jobs. I can count on my staff to take individual action and contribute to the schoolwide leadership team and school improvement teams. The result is an ongoing professional learning community with teacher-led professional development and action teams that provide continuous improvement.
Budd A. Dingwall, Principal, Codington Elementary School, Wilmington, North Carolina

AFTER STUDYING much research on why students lose what they’ve learned during the summer months, our school found a way to put books into students’ hands throughout the summer by simply taking appropriate level books to those students who were barely on grade level or below. Grants were sought to help fund this
and the books were gathered and organized according to the independent level of all the students being served. A staff member goes twice a week during the summer to each of the students’ homes to deliver a bag of books. The students who receive books during the summer have shown that they have maintained the reading level that they ended the school year with and many have shown gains.
Kay York, Principal, Margaret Daniel Primary School, Ashdown, Arkansas

Learn more promising practices at

Members in the Spotlight

Congratulations are in order for principals Kelly Aramaki, Donna Rhoton, and Marie Vetter, who have been recently honored for their exceptional leadership.

Aramaki is principal of John Stanford International School in Seattle and has been presented with the 2010 Milken Educator Award. The purpose of the award, which includes a $25,000 cash prize, is to attract, retain, and reward outstanding K-12 teachers, principals, and other education professionals who make important contributions to excellence in education.

Rhoton, who is principal of Bel-Aire Elementary School in Tullahoma, Tennessee, has been named the 2010-2011 Middle Tennessee Principal of the Year by the Tennessee Department of Education. The Principal of the Year award celebrates school leaders who have implemented outstanding programs resulting in
significant school improvement and actively advocated for the improvement of education for Tennessee’s children.

Vetter, who is principal of Trafalgar Elementary School in Cape Coral, Florida, was honored with the Lee County Public Schools’ 2010 Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership. A 16-year veteran of the principalship, Vetter is in her 33rd year with the Lee County School District.

If you would like to nominate a member who is making local or national news, or has received a unique award or recognition, please submit his or her name to

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