Back to School, Back to Basics

Topics: Student Engagement

And just like that, summer break is over and back-to-school season is in full swing. We hope that you had the opportunity to relax, connect with family and friends, and reset before kicking off another school year.

I had the pleasure of connecting with many of the more than 1,500 principals and assistant principals from across the country who attended the 2023 NAESP Pre-K–8 Principals Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in July. As I reflect on my time there, I think about what I learned by listening to your stories, hearing your “why,” and witnessing your passion for best practices that prioritize student success and well-being. I was reminded of the strength and resilience of the nation’s school leaders; you do what you do because you’re here for the kids.

As the school year begins, we’re getting back to basics: putting kids first by honoring their voice and developing their leadership. Empowering students to take part in their own school experience teaches them that their voice matters. They learn to advocate for themselves and their peers, grow in their social-emotional development, and succeed academically.

Student Voice, Principal Voice

NAESP is a founding member of the Learning First Alliance, whose campaign #HereForTheKids is dedicated to sharing the great successes happening in public schools. I urge you to take time throughout the school year to share your school’s story. It’s critical to share those stories as we continue to advocate for you and your students, staff, and schools—and especially as educational leaders face unprecedented pressures and grapple with burnout.

More educators are leaving the profession, and fewer educators are entering the field. Results from a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey of 6,500 public school principals during the 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 school years are alarming, but not surprising: Older principals and those with 10 or more years of experience left their roles at higher rates than those with fewer than three years on the job. Schools where enrollment included at least 75 percent students of color had the highest percentage of principals moving to new schools (7.1 percent) and the highest percentage of leaders leaving the role altogether (9.9 percent).

Where job satisfaction in the 2020–2021 school year is concerned, 35 percent of respondents said they didn’t have as much enthusiasm as they did when they started the job, according to the NCES survey. 

NAESP is committed to reversing this trend. We will continue to advocate for effective, efficient support for schools and educators so that the profession is once again highly sought-after. We want to get back to the days when school leaders and teachers are celebrated for their commitment to their students, schools, and communities.

At NAESP, we salute you and the work you do, in good times and in challenging times. In October, we celebrate National Principals Month and the NAESP National Distinguished Principals program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Visit naesp.org/NPM to find out who’s made our list for 2023 and discover some of the many ways to #ThankAPrincipal during National Principals Month.

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.