Archives for category: Principals

In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof offers a list of “gifts with meaning” for Christmas giving.


He can’t avoid making a gratuitous slap at public education.


He writes:


We’re seeing painful upheavals about race on university campuses these days, but the civil rights issue in America today is our pre-K through 12th grade education system, which routinely sends the neediest kids to the worst schools. To address these roots of inequality, a group called Communities in Schools ( supports disadvantaged kids, mostly black and Latino, in elementary, middle and high schools around the country.


I’m all for sending money to Communities in Schools, but it is an outright lie to say that our K-12 education system “routinely sends the neediest kids to the worst schools.” Some of our nation’s most dedicated teachers and principals are working in schools in the nation’s poorest communities. The children they serve include disproportionate numbers who have disabilities and who don’t speak English. Many live in unsafe neighborhoods, seldom get routine medical care, do not have food security or even a home. Almost all so-called “failing schools” are located in neighborhoods that are racially segregated and impoverished. Why would Kristof smear the professionals who work there in a spirit of service?


I got an email from the celebrated children’s book author Jean Marzollo, who wrote that she was outraged by Kristof’s derogatory comments about the schools:


My anger came from what I thought was a sweeping insult to the people who work in his so-called “worst schools.” When visiting schools over the years as a children’s book author, I have met many wonderful teachers, principals, and other staff members in his so-called “worst schools” that serve our “disadvantaged kids, mostly black and Latino.” The word “routinely” is a bit insulting, too, because it implies that people in charge of schools don’t care.


I wish Mr. Kristof had said that “…the civil rights issue in America today is our pre-K through 12th grade education system, which for various legal and financial reasons sends our neediest kids to schools with the highest populations of poor kids. The fundamental problem of our neediest kids and our neediest schools is poverty.”


The civil rights issue of our time is to reduce poverty and eliminate segregated neighborhoods, so that all children have the opportunity to have a good life and the opportunity to go to a good school.


Of all the people writing for the New York Times today, Nicholas Kristof should understand the link between poverty and low academic outcomes.





John Thompson, historian and teacher, says that he usually doesn’t worry about principals, but this piece demonstrates that he knows the stress they are under in the current context of fire first, aim later.

Principals and assistant principals give up the best job in the world, teaching, for one of the most stressful of careers. In my experience, they do it in order to help more students. Three excellent articles describe the additional pressure that is being placed on principals in an age of reform.

Clearly, these efforts will not be sustainable if we do not start treating school leaders as valuable resources that can’t be squandered.

My principals all had to claim to believe that better instruction, data, “High Expectations!,” and leadership were enough to turn around the highest-challenge schools. The few who really believed that systemic progress could be driven by instruction within the four walls of the classroom could be annoying, but they were sincere. For instance, one of those frustrating assistant principals faced down a student with a loaded gun rather than take the safe path and allow the police to handle it.

For over a decade, the prime method of turning around schools with the highest concentrations of generational poverty and kids who have survived extreme trauma has been to use up and throw away dedicated teachers and principals. Chalkbeat NY’s Geoff Decker, in “Q&A with Automotive High’s Principal: ‘There’s Always Pressure in This Building,’” featured one of those principals, Caterina Lafergola. She has fought the good fight at New York City’s Automotive High School since 2011.

Lafergola says, “You can’t do this work unless you love it because it will chew you up and spit you out. I love the work. I love the kids.”

The principal cites two huge problems, the “compliance issues” that a school leader must handle, and students’ trauma. Lafergola says of her students, “They’re traumatized. Last year, one of our babies was murdered. Died like a dog in the street.”

Automotive is no longer a “madhouse,” where it took 20 minutes to transition between classes and where there were rampant gang affiliations and drugs. If the standard school improvement model was working, by now Automotive would be creating some stability. But, of Lafergola’s 32 teachers, 14 are brand new. On the other hand, perhaps under Chancellor Carmen Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio and with the implementation of Restorative Practices, more improvement will be possible.

In a second instructive article, the Hechinger Report’s Peg Tyre featured New Orleans charter school principal, Krystal Hardy. Significantly, it is entitled, “Why Do More than Half of Principals Quit after Five Years?”

When Hardy first took over, Tyre reports that her office “became something of a war room. Colorful line graphs affixed to the walls showed student progress on interim standardized tests.” The young principal “planned every school day around maximizing opportunities to provide guidance to her staff. She assigned daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals for teachers. All were written out in crisp detail and color-coded.”

Every day, the former TFA instructional coach “gave teachers a mini-lesson on instruction,” then “checked her teachers’ lesson plans, and once a week she issued a newsletter that “singled out teachers for ‘glows’ and ‘grows,’ and set goals for the coming week.

Despite the principal’s all-consuming dedication, test scores were disappointing, evaluations further stressed out teachers, and five of the 14 teachers in the kindergarten through fifth-grade classes left. The article ends with possibly good news; Hardy’s “tenor has softened.” Tyre describes the principal’s evolution as a lesson for reformers. She concludes, “In their zeal to create new models to help vulnerable children, mission-driven education reformers across the country have created schools where the days are demanding and the goals grueling. It’s why even the most gifted principals and teachers leave so quickly.”

Third, Stanford’s Professor Emeritus Larry Cuban published an excerpt from Kristina Rizga’s Mission High. This features San Francisco principal Eric Guthertz. Guthertz almost lost his job in 2009 due to School Improvement Grant regulations, but he was fortunate that the district has been supportive of his pedagogy – one that is a challenge to the S.I.G. norm.

Guthertz says that “most of the work that helps students develop as mature and compassionate adults happens in the classrooms,” but he and his team “spend at least half of their time building a healthy and inclusive school culture outside of the classrooms.”

Mission High’s administrative team also observes classrooms regularly, studies the data, especially referrals and suspensions and the number of Fs and Ds disaggregated by ethnicity and race. The purpose, though, is to support students and teachers. One-on-one teacher coaching is provided and teachers plan units together and analyze student work collectively. Consequently, “Mission High is the only school in the district that teaches high numbers of African American, Latino, and low-income students and is no longer considered a ‘hard-to-staff school’” The district’s chief communications officer says, “Mission High is famous at the district because it is known as a learning community and good, supportive place to work.”

Teaching in the inner city has always been tough, and being a principal even harder. After NCLB ramped up the pressure, my school rarely had year when a principal or an assistant principal did not require hospitalization in the spring. Most were hit by heart-related illnesses and probably all of their conditions were complicated by the stress of the job. Of course, many veteran teachers were also felled by the conditions in the inner city. For the life of me, I can’t understand why reformers have been so cavalier about using up and throwing out educators. But, maybe articles and books like these will make a difference and, to borrow Cuban’s phrase, we will stop disposing teachers and principals like worn-out tissue paper.

Education is a profession that is supposed to be about nurturing, developing, helping, supporting, and building not only intellectual competence but affective qualities. Race to the Top, with its harsh and punitive approach to school reform, ruined the lives and careers of many dedicated educators. Many were harmed, not only children, who were tested endlessly, but teachers and principals who were unjustly fired.

What happened to the principals who were fired because their school had low test scores? Carole Meyer of Washington State was one of them. She was fired in 2010 because her school was among the lowest performing in the state. She decided to write a dissertation about what happened to her and others similarly placed. She interviewed six other principals who were fired in 2010. She earned her doctorate. She is now a principal in a middle school that she has led successfully for the past five years. Her dissertation can be found here:

The title of her dissertation is “School Principals’ Reassignment Under Race to the Top Legislation: Washington State Principals’ Sense Making and Affective Experience”

She writes:

The purpose of this qualitative interview study was to explore how K-12 public school principals in Washington State “made sense” of the experience of being reassigned under the provisions of Washington State’s version of RTTT.

The research questions this study attempted to answer were:

(a) How do principals describe what happened when they were reassigned?

(b) How did principals work with staff, students, district, and community around the issue of being reassigned?

(c) How did reassignment impact principals emotionally, personally, and professionally?

(d) What are principals’ evaluations of this type of policy approach?

And (e) What were the human costs/benefits associated with reassignment?

Conceptual frames related to human costs (Rice & Malen, 2003), sensemaking (Weick, 1995, 2005, & 2007), and Kübler-Ross’s Grief Construct (1969) were used to guide the study. Extensive in-depth interviews were conducted with six selected principal participants to explore their experiences of reassignment.

The major themes that emerged from the data analysis were (a) costs of reassignment associated with RTTT policy implementation, (b) principal critique of this type of policy approach, and (c) the sensemaking journey of each principal impacted by reassignment. This study found that reassignment had substantial impacts on principals, their critiques of the policy included: (a) unintended consequences; (b) the number of years required to successfully turn around a low-performing school; (c) lack of alignment with good practice in schools; (d) SIG grants’ failure to demonstrate notable benefits to students; (e) the mistake of funding education through competitive means; and (f) the importance of political action and principal “voice” in shaping education policy.

However, over time, the participants were able to resume a sense of normalcy in their work.

The following four major conclusions from this study can be stated: (a) RTTT is a draconian approach to education reform and its costs outweigh the benefits; (b) RTTT policy’s restrictive requirements were seen as unfair and left little choice for districts; (c) principal “voice” is a critical component in education reform; and (d) conceptual frames of Rice and Malen (2003), Weick (1995, 2005, & 2007), and the Kübler-Ross Grief Construct (1969) describe participant’s experiences.

Who stands up for the neediest, most vulnerable children in Chicago? Not Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Not the Mayor’s hand picked Board of Education. Not the Superintendent Forrest Claypool, who imposed what he himself calls “unconscionable” cuts to special education.

Who stands up for the children? Educators.

Principal Troy LaRaviere (who was previously warned by CPS about speaking out too much) describes here the principals’ revolt, and the CPS officials’ sneaky effort to announce the cuts in a Friday afternoon (when they would get minimal media attention), with only one day to appeal.

If this what reformers stand for? Hurting defenseless children?

LaRaviere writes:

“Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more. This time, they’ve targeted special education students. Obscured in the latest round of CPS budget cuts is an unprecedented move to cut legally required special education services. Educators are often asked if a school based budget cut will affect students. The answer is always “yes.” Each person in a school provides a service to a group of students. When CPS decides to cut the dollars that fund a school-based position they are, in effect, taking the service away from students.

“One district official was quoted in the Sun-Times stating, “CPS continues to work with our principals to prepare for these adjustments.”

“Adjustments” is CPS’ latest euphemism for cuts to student services. If they keep it up, they’re going to “adjust” students out of their education entirely. CEO Forrest Claypool often repeats a talking point that the cuts CPS will “have to make” are “unconscionable.” If one thinks the cuts are “unconscionable” then one does not give those cuts a false euphamistic name like “right-sizing.” Yes, that’s the actual term they use to describe their efforts to reduce services to special education students. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS took an additional $13.3 million worth of services from CPS students with their latest “adjustments.” The article includes a spreadsheet detailing the cuts to schools across Chicago. For example, Ogden school lost five special education teachers and three special education assistants, while Austin High School lost two teachers and four assistants.

“Chicago’s mayor and CPS officials often cite the need to “sacrifice” in order to “save money” as a justification for such cuts. However, all too often CPS and City Hall pretend not to see opportunities to save money by making those who can most afford it sacrifice. Instead they turn their avaricious eyes toward those who can least afford it: our students. They didn’t make the banks that swindled CPS out of $100 million sacrifice by suing them to recoup their losses; they prefer to make students sacrifice by increasing their class sizes. They didn’t makes SUPES Academy sacrifice by denying the organization a $20 million no-bid contract; they prefer to make students suffer by cutting their sports programs. They didn’t make the scores of basement dwelling for-profit charter school management organizations suffer (88% of charters are in the bottom half of CPS performance in student reading growth); instead they took funds used to provide programming for students in more successful neighborhood schools. They didn’t make Aramark and Sodexo Magic (an Emanuel campaign contributor) suffer by canceling their custodial management contracts when they failed to keep schools clean; CPS and City Hall prefer instead to make special education students sacrifice by cutting their legally required educational services.”

Where are the lawyers?

Troy LaRaviere is a prominent elementary school principal in Chicago. He has been outspoken in his opposition to Rahm Emanuel’s budget-cutting and his preference for privately managed charters. He is on the honor roll of this blog for his courage and articulate support of the children and educators of the Windy City.

He recently spoke at the Chicago Club and titled his address, “A Love Letter to Chicago’s Teachers.”

Much to his surprise, he received an anonymous love letter from a teacher. She was deeply inspired by his speech.

Her letter to Troy begins like this:

I’ve been reading and listening to your love letter over and over the last few weeks. Your passion is contagious. Your sweet words, hard and true, light the darkness in my heart; the light I had forgotten. Although, your words I hold dear to my heart…I cannot leave my man (CPS). He provides for me…without him…I don’t know how I would be able to feed my kids. Yes, he is abusive…He constantly threatens to quit me. He reminds me annually that I can be easily replaced by someone younger, cheaper and less experienced. He doesn’t respect me…in fact he constantly belittles me with tests that constantly change and evaluations that are subjective and punitive…as if I haven’t proven that I am worthy or good enough despite the years that I have sacrificed for our relationship. He sends people to check up on me in hopes of catching me doing wrong.

Troy says he is a shy man by nature, but clearly he was moved by this letter. You can bet he will fight even harder now for justice and equity and respect for the city’s teachers, parents, and children.

Marc Tucker’s blog reports how top-performing nations select school principals. Most require several years of teaching experience and a long and in-depth course in leadership skills. The report, by Jennifer Craw and Jackie Kraemer, describes the high professionalism required in top-performing nations.

By contrast, some states in the U.S. allow non-educators to become principals.

The U.S. is definitely an outlier.

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York, doesn’t think much of Governor Cuomo’s proposal for teachers to be evaluated by drop-by outsiders. The Governor made this part of his education package of “reforms.” His original proposal, which has been handed over to the State Education Department (or the Board of Regents) was to have test scores count for 50% of each teacher’s evaluation, to have 35% determined by an “independent evaluator,” and only 15% based on the principal’s judgment. Who would these outside evaluators be? How much would they be paid? What would it cost? How many would be hired to review the work of every teacher in the state? How much time would they spend with each teacher? This is the kind of idea that would be dreamed up only by someone who never was a principal or a teacher.

Here is what Burris says:

The folks up in Albany are showing once again that they never met a bad idea they didn’t like. The idea that teaching would improve if only “outsiders” came in to do observations is absurd.

When confronted with the costs of this half-baked scheme, legislators suggested that money could be saved by “swapping” administrators among districts to do observations. Can you imagine the consequences of putting this idea in place?

Schools would not function as principals are put on the road to observe teachers in other schools, leaving their own students and teachers without support when a crisis occurs. In rural New York, schools may be an hour or more apart. If the outside observations stay within the district, we would have elementary principals observing physics classes, and high school principals observing pre-k.

Observations would become little more than a check list hastily done by someone who has no vested interest in helping the teacher improve. One might imagine a cadre of “hired guns” who excel in writing harsh observations being brought in to a school to get a teacher who is respected in the building principal but not by a district office or a Board of Education.

This scheme makes one thing crystal clear–Cuomo despises teachers and the principals who support them. Let’s see if the legislature goes along or stands up for our public schools and the children they serve.

Ken Mitchell, who recently retired as a school superintendent, attempts to shed light on thorny problems in current education policy in this article.


No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been dismal failures, and their main result appears to be the creation of chaos and incoherence at the local level. Both assume that standardized tests are not only the measure of education but the goal of education. Legislators are reacting by passing laws about how to evaluate teachers, a subject about which they are not expert and not well-informed.


Mitchell calls for the creation of an education summit, but with a twist:


It is time for an education summit, but not one that emanates from the governor’s office.


The governor has appointed commissions on mandate relief, school reform, and Common Core, naming members who often lacked expertise or objectivity. This time we need a summit involving stakeholders: teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and school boards. We need a de-politicized venue to ensure an objective analysis of the evidence behind current and proposed reforms related to assessment, teacher evaluation, Common Core and charter schools. If policymakers continue to mandate without evidence and allow profiteers to influence educational decisions, children will be harmed and public education ruined.


His suggestion makes sense. The Legislature should listen to the experts, rather than attempt to regulate the teaching profession. They would never dream of passing laws to evaluate the medical profession or any other profession. Why should they tell principals and superintendents how to evaluate teachers?

Roseanne Woods was a high school principal in Florida for 32 years. She is now a protester and a blogger. She is outraged by Florida’s punitive testing and accountability regime. In this post, she describes a state that cares more about testing than teaching.

For her steadfast dedication to real education, I place Roseanne Woods on the blog’s honor roll.

She writes:

“Children are stressed out and parents are m ad enough to want their children to “Opt-Out” of all high-stakes testing. Frustrated teachers are leaving the profession and superintendents are demanding real change. Lawmakers: how about some real relief?


“Florida schools are about to hit the big testing/school grades accountability iceberg this spring. Why? This year, instead of FCAT, all 3rd-11th grade students will be taking brand new tests on the extremely challenging Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), aka, Common Core Standards. Third graders who don’t score well on reading will be retained and high school students who don’t pass will not graduate. Schools will receive A-F school grades based on these scores.


“Not to worry—districts have been assured by DOE that the scores will be “normed” (manipulated) to match last year’s scores. Somehow, that gives little comfort


“Here’s a sample 3rd grade math problem— ‘A bakery uses 48 pounds of flour each day. It orders flour every 28 days. Create an equation that shows how many pounds of flour the bakery
needs to order every 28 days.’


“Any wonder many parents are having trouble helping their children with homework?


“There are now 154 of the 180 days on the Florida State Testing Calendar devoted to a variety of required state assessments in grades K-12 that effect schools’ grades. Any wonder that schools are spending more and more time prepping and practicing for these tests?…


“To make matters worse, schools also have to implement Florida Statute 1012.34– requiring 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on “rigorous” tests for every subject/course taught. So, at great expense, school districts have been scrambling to create over 1200 tests on courses not covered by the required Florida Standards Assessments, FSA. These district assessments must cover quite the spectrum including art, physical ed., drama and guidance counselors. By law, elementary students must take 6-7 end-of-course tests to prove their teachers did a good enough job to be eligible for a performance bonus.”


Florida is a very sick state. Please, someone, invite the Governor and the State Board of Education to visit Finland! All that time and money for testing is wasted.

Parents at the Julian Nava Academy in South Los Angeles loved their middle school. They worried about their children moving on to a high school where they might get less attention, where the education would not be as good as it had been at Nava Academy. So the parents organized, met with the principal, met with the district administrator, and won permission to open a new high school, called Nava College Preparatory Academy.


The school opened this fall, and the parents remain engaged with it. Its first class has 300 students, and it will eventually grow to 1100 students. Note there was no parent trigger, no confrontation between parents and educators. The parents loved the school they had, they wanted more of it, they made their case, and they won.


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