Jul 30, 2014
Partly Cloudy

Columnist Dreams Of Ideal High School Principal

Someone who ducks meetings, greets hundreds of students by name and knows when the lawn needs watering.


This column is written by High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. 

I received an email from the teacher’s union this week asking that teachers fill out a form evaluating our principal.

If I were cynical I’d suspect that these evaluations were our chance to point the finger of blame up the chain of command for once.

But let’s assume this is a sincere effort to give feedback to higher-ups.

I haven’t seen the actual form yet but I will probably abstain. I’ll opt out for the simple reason that I know very little about my principal, about what she does with her day, or about any of a thousand factors that might allow me to weigh her job performance.

The message does give me the idea for a column.

I thought I could talk about the qualities I’d like to see in a principal.

Here I’d like to cite a writer that I admired, Bill Veeck, former owner of several major league baseball teams. Veeck’s approach to management was, to me, transcendent:

            “When I’m in operation,” Veeck wrote, “I get to the park early in the morning and make four complete tours before the game starts, checking everything from the concessions to the men’s rooms. I watch every game and not from the owner’s box…I move around the park, inning by inning…It is among the fans and the writers that you find the real rooting, the real excitement.”

In a school the “real excitement” is in the classrooms.

I’d wish for a principal who did as Veeck did, someone who knew firsthand the conditions of the restrooms, someone who was concerned about whether the grass had been adequately fertilized, someone who knew which classes were most joyous, which ones were most in need of the firm hand of the most powerful individual in the building.

I’d like a principal who knew the names of hundreds of students—because he or she had daily contact with those students.

Someone who knew that John’s grade in Spanish had slipped lately because he had moved in with his father and stepmother.

I’d like a principal who knew why my students sat in groups but the kids down the hall sat in rows. Someone who habitually talked with teachers about the dozens of decisions we make each week.

My principal would be intellectually curious, especially about education.

He or she would be someone who had at least a passing knowledge of the ideas of Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch, someone who had heard of constructivism and knows what a MOOC is.

Teachers like to talk. They often don’t make good listeners.

I’d hope my principal, with the wisdom of years in the school system, would develop the discipline to listen.

Lastly I’d want a principal with an informed vision. I say that even though I know I’d hate it if that vision were different than my own.

I should stipulate before I finish, that being a school principal has obstacles not faced by ordinary managers.

My principal can’t hire a congenial staff.

Tenure, contracts, state laws all mean that the principal has to work with people who have no special loyalty to the leader.

And schools always seem to have soooo many meetings. John Madden can announce football games without riding on airplanes. Maybe our principal could claim a meeting phobia.

I like our principal. She seems genuinely dedicated to improving our school.

But evaluate her? That I can’t do.

Read other columns from the  Entirely Secondary archive. The tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.

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