How assistant Principals Excel as School Community-Builders

Three stellar assistant principals weigh in on the three elements of a strong school community.

April 2016, Volume 39, Issue 8

Where there is a successful school, there is always a strong leadership team. Assistant principals often serve as the glue between administrators, teachers, students, and the outside community. This essential work is exemplified by the recipients of NAESP’s National Outstanding Assistant Principal Award program. Here are some of those educators’ best practices for constructing a sturdy community.

1. Engage Teachers
Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick, Maine, is the product of combining three existing schools. The arrangement required that a cohesive school culture be developed from scratch between groups of teachers who had little to no experience with working together. Establishing that culture of collaboration is a reoccurring theme in assistant principal Joshua Levy’s work.

His principal, Jean Skorapa, put Levy in charge of unifying these three distinct staffs and gives him time during staff meetings to do so. “Since staff meetings can at times become static, I encourage teamwork and collaboration at the start of many meetings. Often, random groups are created (by birthday months or the color of one’s shirt) to complete a task or answer a series of questions. These activities are centered on best practices in teaching a favorite subject or area of curriculum,” Levy writes.

Engagement can wane at the beginning of meetings, but Levy believes he has found a solution. “It is amazing how staff participation soars when I offer to cover duty for the staff members on the ‘winning’ team of an activity.”

2. Build Relationships With Students
The stereotype that students are only exposed to assistant principals when they are in need of redirection is a blatant misconception, but it is still pervasive among students. That is why outstanding assistant principals make a point of reaching out to as many students during the day as possible.

“Due to the nature of the job, one cannot always stay true to the calendar of the day… Instead of scheduling visits in multiple classrooms throughout the week, I ‘adopt’ a single class for an entire week,” reports Margo Kleven, assistant principal at Palmer Lake Elementary in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

“When I find slivers of time throughout the week, I keep returning to the same class. This generates a real connection to the class… I may eat lunch with the class, help with reading rotations, join them in the media center, or assist with technology. I believe having a week to connect actually helps me be more purposeful in my goal of being visible.”

3. Connect With Parents
Parental engagement is critical to the success of a school community. With increasingly busy lives, effective administrators—including Julie Ortego from Dolby Elementary in Lake Charles, Louisiana—have to work extra hard at bringing parents into the fold.

“I lead monthly parenting meetings to support the curriculum that the teachers are using in the classroom and provide strategies and techniques to our parents to help them work with their children,” writes Ortego. Her efforts have resulted in Dolby Elementary receiving four straight awards from Johns Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnership Schools.

“She works endlessly with parents to share ways that they can help their children be successful both inside and outside of school,” writes Ortego’s principal, Missy Bushnell. “She is a confidant to many who continue to call for advice; some even after their children leave our school. They catch her in the car duty line, on Facebook, the grocery store, and now the soccer field and band concession stand.”

It’s not too late to recognize your school’s assistant principal for National Assistant Principals Week, which was April 11-15. Click here to send him or her an e-card.

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