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School Principals at Work—Just as Tough as It Looks

Note: October is National Principals Month. We can all say “thank you” to principals everywhere by using the #ThankAPrincipal hashtag on social media.

Our Department has long history of frontline staff taking the time to observe and learn in schools and classrooms, affectionately known in our hallways as “ED Goes Back to School.”  This month, National Public Engagement staff of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach were invited by the National Association of Secondary School Principals to take part in Principal Shadowing, in recognition of October as National Principals Month.  Local principals in DC and Falls Church, VA, in surrounding areas like Loudon County, VA, and Ellicott City and Gaithersburg, MD, as well as school leaders in New York City, Chicago and rural Hemet, CA, opened their inner office doors to Department outreach staff, and as happens in every shadowing experience, “aha” moments were plentiful.

ED’s Michael Chamberlain (l.) and Principal Douglas Fulton of Freedom High School in Loudoun County, VA.

Two ED staffers noted the lengths a caring principal will go to investigate and confirm how his/her community feels about their school, share the feedback and follow up with whatever hard conversations are needed.  One school visited has split the traditional principalship into two separate jobs—in clear recognition of how much a single school leader is called upon to manage day-to-day.  Staff told of one school leader, whose magnet campus receives 100 times more student applicants than it can serve, who shared his

ED’s Jacqueline Murray (l.) and Karen Stratman (r.) join Dr. Marc Cohen, principal of Seneca Valley HS in Germantown, MD.

experience that while schools outside of his local area were very interested in their success, schools a few blocks away were much less so.

And there were the practical “ahas,” from as simple as one principal’s mantra to “never assume the worst, nor think the worst” in a touchy situation, or the principal thrilled at the prospect of a new state-of-the-art facility next year, when that opportunity has easily increased his daily workload by 30 percent.

(From left to right) Western Center Academy (Hemet, CA) Assistant Principal Michael Horton, Executive Director Paul Bailey and U.S. Department of Education’s Joe Barison.

At the heart of issues around college access, equity in opportunity, school safety, teacher shortages, the ever-present achievement gap—issues that fill today’s national education dialogue, news coverage and even blogs like this one—is the small populace of leaders at the helm of schools, not merely talking about the issues but living with them, working through them and moving our next generation of leaders and good citizens on to productive lives beyond their schools’ walls.

I say we give them each a cape.



Karen Stratman is the Director for National Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education.

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