Governor Perry has designated October of this year as “Principals Month” in Texas. I appreciate that designation. It’s hard to adequately convey the crucial contributions of these important leaders.
One relevant indicator: Pearland ISD just received a 5-star rating from the Texas Comptroller’s Office — awarded for a combination of high student achievement and low spending. We were one of only 15 districts in Texas (out of over 1,000) achieving that distinction for 3 straight years. Such significant student achievement is a campus-by-campus accomplishment. Over the past several years, Pearland principals endured a sharp reduction in funding and staffing. Yet they rose to the occasion and did much more with much less. They were the first to give the credit to their faculty and staff, but any concerted work toward common goals also requires a strong principal at the helm.
Analysis of our 2012 test scores demonstrates that Pearland ISD ranked between 1st place and 4th place among all Houston-area districts on every TAKS/STAAR/End-of-Course Exam given (grades 3-11). At the high school level, our College Board Advanced Placement participation and success rates are among the top in the country — and are accelerating with each passing year. These things are found here in a community that is among the most diverse in the entire country.
Space prohibits extolling the virtues of the 24 individual principals now in command throughout Pearland ISD. But I urge parents and community members to express their appreciation for the long hours, difficult decisions, and compassionate care shown by these leaders. While it is true they can’t possibly please everyone, they are trying to maximize student achievement and provide positive answers to the daily deluge of problems and decisions handed them.
As I write this, I have just finished a 2.5-hour meeting with our principals covering a wide variety of topics. The unavoidable truth is this: With each passing year, the burden becomes heavier, and the challenges more daunting. In today’s meeting, we heard a report of malnourished children suddenly discovered after 8 weeks of searching — that brought a principal to tears as she and others reached out to help. We talked about the myriad of rules surrounding a seemingly simple task of hiring tutors or part-timers to help with the classroom needs — in the midst of reduced finances and bureaucratic state rules. We discussed parent concerns about homework, about the amount of communication with parents, about funding and testing decisions emanating from Austin, about ways to recognize our outstanding teachers, about new instructional initiatives, and about many other items.
Principals, by nature, are practical people. The demands of the job also require a strong moral compass and a heart for children. Those without such attributes don’t last. Many people who approach principals expect them to drop everything in order to deal with their issue. Principals must often endure being yelled at by parents or kids — and avoid responding in kind. When the fire alarm goes off, when the teacher is in a car accident, when the student has a meltdown, the principals are generally right in the middle of the action. They are expected to be instructional leaders, immersed in the classrooms of their teachers. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
I also want to mention the assistant principals in our district. They have among the most thankless jobs imaginable. When they’re not counting “butts and books,” they might spend their entire week on student discipline and monitoring duty — extending from early morning to late night. Sadly, many American parents nowadays are not of the same mindset as previous generations — in which discipline at school was reinforced and heightened at home. The emphasis has shifted from James Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline” to “How Dare You Discipline!” And the same parents upset about disciplining their children are often the ones demanding harsh discipline for others!
But the job can also be rewarding. Standing on the football field a few weeks ago, I saw a graduate approach a high school principal for the purpose of filling him in on his life since graduation. It was obvious the student very much looked up to and appreciated the influence this man had on his life.
So I end with this plea: Spend some time this month thanking the principals of your children’s schools. They don’t hear it very often, but it means a great deal. It might help them endure the burden with what one TV football coach called “Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose” optimism about their noble work.