NASSP Principals of the Year Discuss Challenges and Successes

Last week, principals from around the country gathered in this northern Virginia suburb of Washington for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Training Institute. Partof that program included the announcement of the winners of the Metlife/NASSPPrincipal of the Year awards. This year, Trevor Greene of Toppenish, Wash., is the National HighSchool Principal of the Year, and Laurie Barron of Newnan, Ga., is the Middle Level Principal of the Year.

These two principals along with others that were nominated from other states were asked what they felt was the most misunderstood or under-reported part of their job. Here are a few of the topics that came up:


  • “This isn’t your father’s school,” one finalist told me. That is: Learning looks different today than it did before, but communicating that to parents and other stakeholders can be challenging.
  • The needs of kids and families are different, and greater, today than in the past. Many kids aren’t going home to stable family situations, and that affects school performance and school culture.
  • Community members often don’t understand how school budgets work. For instance, a principal might have to address anger that a new building addition is under construction while arts are being cut when those funding streams might be completely different.
  •  A principal’s job is extremely multifaceted. He or she has got to evaluate teachers, lead instruction, balance budgets, mentor younger leaders, attend those soccer games. And many principal-training programs don’t effectively prepare future school leaders for the job. There’s a lot of trial by fire. This also ties into how principals are evaluated, which has recently been in the spotlight.
  •  Work/life balance—and preventing burnout—is hard. Good principals have vision and extreme commitment—but that means they often spend so much time with their school communities that time for family and their own kids can be hard to come by. The principals I was with described a “second shift” after teachers go home; nighttime and weekends are when planning, budgeting, and big-picture thinking have to get done.
  •  Finally, there’s a lot of great stuff happening in schools every day. Sometimes that message just doesn’t seem to get out there, and the more it does, the better.

If these statements sound familiar, and they should, the jobs of school administrators are similar across the nation. Different buildings, different staff, similar, but not always the same curricula, but certainly the same goals, issues and concerns which we face in Virginia.