(The following is an amalgam of discussions with a number of newer Principals)
I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new Principal … eager to become part of a new Children’s First driven school system. It was amazing – I sent Joel Klein an email and, viola, the Chancellor answering my emails!!
In a few short years I have become that cynical school leader who loves his kids, respects his teachers and is just trying to survive.
The Merry-Go-Round of School Support: If my “significant other” would check my email log they would think I’m having a relationship with two folk named Galaxy and FAMIS. Every year Tweed has changed the system and the people. By the time I begin to figure it out, they change it again. I survive because of the “Board of Ed in Exile,” those retirees, mostly pushed out before they were ready to retire, who are really, really good at this budget, purchasing, programming stuff … I hire them as consultants and survive.
Chancellors Invent, Principals Circumvent: In my first few years I thought I could run a highly successful school no matter which kids were sent to my school. Wrong!! I love my kids to death, but, the big but, Joel has decided to measure me by the progress of my kids … and really, really, needy kids don’t accumulate credits and pass Regents in an orderly fashion. From September to November I spend every waking hour recruiting kids … The message from Joel was clear: he applauded successful Principals, who also had entering classes with most of their kids above standard!! The lesson: if I want to survive in the current environment I have to swallow my beliefs recruit, recruit, recruit …
Burn Out: Every day I’m sitting at my desk as the sun rises … reading and answering endless emails, and the other mundane but essential administrative tasks. Can I do this forever? It’s decades until I can retire … I thought after a few years I would master the job and live a normal life … wrong! It doesn’t get easier … as I learn the job better I want to do more for my kids …
My Heroes: the teachers: Teachers are amazing … their dedication, caring and hope …I respect them and my success is based on their success … however … in the wild, wild West of Open Market I spend the Spring recruiting and trying to convince current staff to stay. A few of my best teachers fled … to easier schools, to schools closer to their homes. I had a few “losers” that I encouraged to leave … I put myself in the “coverage” pool and teach a few class a week … keeps my head on straight.
The Union is Not the Enemy: As a teacher I was happy that I had a strong union … I never needed them but it was nice to know the union was there … As a Principal I understand the need for rules … I work with my union rep … a few times I wanted to do something that the “union” said I couldn’t do … I knew there was a way to work it out but I had no way to speak to the union officialdom … bureaucracy is bureaucracy … As Joel continues to rap the UFT the more I wish Randi Weingarten was the President of my union.
Data and Survival: I am the CEO, the leader of my school and I’m measured by cold, cruel numbers. A bunch of “acronyms” wander by … but … I no longer have a “boss.” Does this students work qualify for an academic credit? Is this course remedial or creditable? Is this project rigorous? These are all my decisions and no one is looking over my shoulder. One Principal makes one decision, another Principal the opposite. As long as your data are good, no one cares … And, every decision that impacts school data impacts your evaluation … I fear that we are slowly “dumbing” down the work to improve our data … it is the world in which I live!!
Dancing As Fast As I Can: In spite of some urgings from Tweed I avoided the project that will pay kids to come to school … I carefully skipped around the pilot program that is the precursor to merit pay. I keep my CBO partner happy and I’m polite and respectful to my School Support Organization. I’m an expert on gang colors in their many manifestations. I’m an expert on the machinations of the juvenile criminal justice system and have a number of Probation Officers and key Police personnel on my speed dial.
I feel betrayed by Joel … I see the overwhelming burdens my kids face … the unfairness of the world … I can only do so much … who can find answers to no jobs, dilapidated housing, crime, ghetto-fabulous bling, and on and on … I don’t know …
I jog, I’m into meditation … and I survive.