Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So, What should we expect from a school administrator?

I thought I'd follow up on two of my previous entries, and start posing some questions that should be considered when evaluating a school administrator.  I'd be glad to hear anyone else's thoughts.

These are in no particular order.

1.  Does the administrator do a good job hiring quality staff?

2.  Does she/he hire staff which reflects the diversity of the student community?

3.  Does she/he do a good job retaining the proven/quality teachers already on staff?

4.  Does she/he facilitate a school-wide effort on developing a positive school climate in which all students feel safe and welcome?

5.  Does she/he facilitate a school-wide effort to create a schoolwide climate where all students can excel to their best level?

6. Is staff development meaningful?

7.  Are staff meetings well-used (as opposed to being wastes of time)?

8.  Are meetings with parent groups well-thought-out to encourage parent participation?

9.  Does staff feel like they are connected to school wide efforts?

10.  Do teacher concerns get adequately heard and dealt with?

11.  Do parent concerns get adequately heard and dealt with?

12.  Do teachers get adequate support for their initiatives?

I know I'm missing some really important questions, but this is a start.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Way Through the State Budget Crisis

Dear Progressive State Legislators,


So I understand that you folks in the State Capitol aren’t having any fun.  Budget stalemate, $20 Billion deficit, Republicans swearing not to raise taxes ever.  State programs already cut to the bone.  You need 60% of the votes to pass a budget, and you’re looking for a way out right about now.


Well, how about playing hardball.  If the Republicans won’t allow you to approve some new revenue sources (there are lots to choose from) then pass legislation changing the way that school districts are funded, stressing equity between districts.  You should be doing this anyway.


The way school districts are funded, you’ve got more money going to richer communities that have FEWER needs.  Meanwhile, more urban, diverse, working-class school districts are left trying to figure out how to do more with less revenue.    The difference is compounded when you consider a wealthier community’s ability to raise more money locally.  Wealthier communities are more able to pass local parcel taxes and bonds, and usually have very substantial community foundations that also support their schools.


Here are some Bay Area examples from 2006-2007.  Pleasanton, a suburban district with only four percent of their students on reduced lunch and only five percent of their students classified as language learners, received $6,199 per student in base revenue limit from the State.  San Leandro, also in Alameda County and adjacent to Oakland, has 50% of its students in the reduced-lunch program and 26% in a language learner program, yet only receives $5,517 per student.  The difference between how the state funds the two districts is $682 per student.  Add in other sources of revenue, and the Pleasanton USD is able to spend $800 more per student than San Leandro USD.


Not surprisingly, Pleasanton teachers make a lot more than San Leandro teachers, anywhere between 12 and 17 thousand dollars per year per teacher.  If you’re an experienced teacher with proven classroom success and you’re district-shopping for a new job, where do you apply?


So, dear state legislators, here’s your mission.  If the Republicans aren’t willing to approve some new revenue, then change the way the money gets spent.  Fix the disrict-by-district inequity. 


Here’s the new piece of legislation you should champion.  Rank districts by state revenue received through the last 10 years.  Flip the rankings.  Give more money to the districts that have received less. Then, give bonuses for the number of language learners, the number of resource students, and the number of students who qualify for reduced lunches. Of couse, you should allow for regional variation (obviously it’s more expensive to operate in the Bay Area than in Fresno).  In other words, give more resources to the schools with most need.  Dare anyone to tell you why this shouldn’t be the way that it works anyway.


At the very least, float this idea.  Use it as a bargaining chip.  Imagine the reaction in those rich Republican enclaves when they find out that their school districts are going to be sacrificed if their legislators don’t approve some new revenue sources.  

Monday, July 7, 2008

It's the "Principal" of the thing!

A few years ago, when a friend told me that he was going to get his school administration credential, I remember saying that was great, we need good people becoming prinicipals.  But I also told him he was out of his mind, that I would never wish the job on any friend.


Being a principal is an impossible job.  You get all the responsibilities of running the school, including student achievement, school climate, employee relations and community spokesperson, but very limited power.  Long hours, low budget, and everyone expects you to live up to their very specific expectations.


So, what qualities make a good principal?  How can we measure success?  In my head, the answer is we need some combination of circus skills in your basic principal – some combination of juggler, high wire act and ringmaster.  However, it’s best to avoid the people who see themselves as lion-tamers and dart-throwers.  Those are the types that can run a staff ragged.


I believe that a principal can do more harm in a school than good.  A bad principal can easily marginalize parent groups, divide a staff or shove students into a box.  Then run.  And leave Pandora’s box open for the next unlucky person to come on in and take the job.  But a good principal’s best gift to a school community is to simply encourage the good things that other people are doing.


With all that said, I think it’s the duty of people in a school community to expect and demand good principals.  I actually believe that experienced staff members need to take it on themselves to train principals how do their jobs, which is awkward, because the principal is the “supervisor” in the relationship. 


Awkward, but necessary.  The teachers, office workers, counselors, aides and custodial staff are the folks who have been in the school community the longest, and also the people who will last the longest.  Teachers carry school culture and remember school history.  Staff members develop working relationships with each other that last long past the principal’s tenure in a school. 


A good principal should inspire the people around her or him to add their talents to a mosaic – which becomes a shared vision for how the school should be serving the community.  That’s the basic job description for a quality principal.  The more you impost, the more the staff, parents and students resist. The principal who recognizes this basic truth about the way a school functions is the one who fits the school the best.