Duncan: Principal Leadership, School Safety Are Priorities

Conference News Online – 2013

By Emily Rohlffs

During the Opening General Session of NAESP’s Annual Conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged the challenges principals face in today’s shifting educational environment. In the face of such challenges, principal leadership is key, he said.

“If we stay the course, we will come out ahead on the other side,” said Duncan of the Common Core State Standards, thanking principals for their leadership.

In his address to conference attendees, he explored three broad priorities for the remaining years of his second term: principal leadership, early learning, and school safety.

First, Duncan reported that his department has not invested enough in principal leadership.

“Great principals are critical, as they directly impact school culture [and] climate, and attract good teachers,” he said, stressing that since principals can often feel isolated, school leaders must have access to mentoring and collaboration opportunities.

One way Duncan plans to better partner with principals is through the new Principal Ambassador Fellowship program. Interested principals can still apply for this fellowship, launched with the help of NAESP, through July 16.

Also on Duncan’s list of priorities is the administration’s $75 billion Preschool for All proposal. Through state partnerships, the Department of Education aims to double the number of three- and four-year-olds that have access to high-quality preschool.

“Arguably the best thing we can do is get our babies off to a good start and get out of the catch-up business,” said Duncan, to a round of applause.

Third, Duncan stressed how important it is to keep schools safe. Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Duncan promised to do everything possible to ensure kids and educators are safe. He reported that he’s “not a big fan” of arming school officials.

“I would rather support school counselors, social workers and school psychologists,” he said.

One topic not included on Duncan’s priorities: reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Both the House and Senate education committees have released ESEA rewrites, but it is generally doubtful that any reauthorization proposal will be signed into law. Duncan admitted that ESEA is broken, though, and hopes that once Congress reverses the federal student loan interest rate hike (which doubled as of July 1), momentum to fix ESEA will gather speed.

Emily Rohlffs is legislative and advocacy coordinator at NAESP.

Duncan, pictured above with NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly and NAESP President Nancy Flatt Meador, thanked principals in address.

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