Last week, several staff from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) got a close-up view of the daily life of a principal when they shadowed local principals in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia as part of NASSP’s celebrations for National Principals Month. Proposed by NASSP staff to ED officials, these shadowing visits culminated in a debrief session with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and all the participants.
While we await the transcript of this debrief session from ED, we can offer some insight into the session via the Twitter activity produced (you can find these Tweets along with other Tweets relating to National Principals Month under the #prinmonth hashtag in Twitter). For the first part of the session, Secretary Duncan listened to principals sharing not only their successes but also what they felt they needed in terms of support from the Department of Education. For example, several principals noted a lack of technology funding and resources required to adequately prepare their students for the high-tech world they will be entering, as well as to support the upcoming requirements of the common core standards assessments that will take place entirely on computers. Meanwhile, Congress has not funded the only federal funding stream for education technology, the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program, since Fiscal Year 2010, nor did President Obama request that this program be funded in his Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request. (NASSP continues to advocate that this funding be restored for FY 2013 and beyond). Several principals also focused on the importance of literacy for student success, and the need for better training in teacher preparation programs for literacy instruction. One principal, recognizing that this is the first opportunity of its kind for principals to have a forum to talk to ED staff in a debrief format, remarked that we need to change policy from the current top-down approach to a grassroots approach that includes more important activities like principal shadowing.
In response to the comments, Secretary Duncan first reiterated his recognition of the importance of the principal, saying “I have yet to go to a school that doesn’t have a great principal.” At the same time, he admitted that “We haven’t done enough over the past four years to support school leaders,” indicating that a second term would bring an increased focus to the principalship. Duncan noted to the principals that the Department gives out $2.5 billion each year for professional development, which drew collective shock from the principals present whose professional development is sorely underutilized and underfunded. As a result, Duncan stated that professional development funding specifically for principals must be allocated. Lastly, in reaction to one attendee’s request that the Department create an ambassador program for principals similar to the Department’s current Teacher Ambassador Fellows program, Duncan noted that as a “brilliant” idea. (Such a program would offer ED staff a much-needed and much-lacking principal voice and perspective to weigh in on the federal policies and regulations that ED shapes and monitors). NASSP and NAESP, in full support of a principal ambassador program, will follow up on this request with relevant ED staff in the coming months.
NASSP wants to reiterate our thanks to the wonderful principals who opened their doors and minds to this principal shadowing experience, and to the Department of Education staff who strapped on comfortable shoes and experienced the seemingly miles of walking and hundreds of tasks that principals tackle every day. This principal shadowing week proved such a success that we will continue the event next October to celebrate National Principals Month 2013.