The school doors are open; the goals for the new school year are set. This week, Education World invited our "Principal Files" principals to share the goals they have set for the school year that just got underway. One restriction: Nobody was allowed to say "raise test scores" because that goal is a given! The goals those principals shared are as varied as the schools they represent. Learn what principals had to say in this article, which stands as a lesson in Goal Setting 101. Included: Goals related to curriculum, motivating teachers, involving parents, more!
Principal Deborah Harbin has one main goal this year. "I want to be in the classrooms more and have professional conversations with teachers about curriculum and instruction," Harbin told Education World. "The work of the school happens in the classrooms. If I want to influence my school, then that's where I need to be."
Harbin, principal at Holbrook Elementary School in Houston's Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, recognizes that her goal is easier to state than to accomplish, "but I am determined," she said.
Harbin was one of more than a dozen of Principal Files Principals who joined a recent discussion about the goals they have set for the year ahead. Many of the principals' goals revolve around the themes of curriculum improvement, professional development, and motivating teachers to do the best they can do for all students. Harbin's goal seems to encompass all of those themes.
MOTIVATING TEACHERS AND IMPROVING MORALE
This fall, Jed Landsman-Yakin, principal at Belfry (Montana) High School, welcomed eight new teachers to his staff of 18. "The experience level of those new teachers ranges from not-yet-out-of-college to master-level technicians," Landsman-Yakin told Education World.
Landsman-Yakin's challenge is to convince the new and veteran educators at Belfry to work toward common goals. "We have a common goal -- to produce the very best, smartest, wisest, well-rounded graduates -- as we work independently within teams to raise the standard," added Landsman-Yakin. "Our tools are different but we are all trying to create the same masterpiece!"
At the same time, Landsman-Yakin has to sell students, parents, the superintendent, community members, and businesses on that common goal.
An Onward to Excellence grant is the fuel that Landsman-Yakin is using to ignite the effort. The grant monies were used to send 13 members of the Belfry High staff to a five-day literacy conference. In addition, weekly staff meetings -- for at least the first six to eight weeks of school -- will be used to reinforce newly-acquired teaching skills, discuss their value to the learning process, and get buy-in from the staff members who didn't attend the conference.
"We include non-certified staff as part of our ongoing school improvement work," added Landsman-Yakin. "The cooks, bus drivers, cleaning staff, and secretarial people are so very important to this endeavor."
BUILDING A TEAM CLIMATE
In Wyoming, Bob Edmiston will be focusing his efforts at Uinta Meadows Elementary School toward a similar goal -- building a team climate and creating opportunities for the staff to learn for themselves the importance of implementing and incorporating defined instructional strategies.
Among Edmiston's vehicles for building a team climate is a "Terrific Teacher" article that will appear regularly in the local newspaper; each article will highlight the successes of a different staff member. In addition, the entire staff will be reading and discussing Camel-Makers: Building Effective Teacher Teams Together (A Modern Fable for Educators) by Daniel L. Kain.
When it comes to instructional strategies, Edmiston has invited the district curriculum administrator to visit classrooms. In addition, he will be doing some training in authentic student instructional approaches such as 6 + 1 Trait Writing and student portfolios, and he will establish an account to fund "floating" substitute teachers so teams of three teachers can take turns observing each other teach.
"I know how strong and talented my staff is," Edmiston added. "The idea is to suggest some new ideas and to allow the teams to share and learn from one another." In that way, Edmiston added, "Success will breed success!"
CREATING AN EXCITEMENT FOR LEARNING
"I hope to create more of an excitement for learning among our student body by generating more enthusiasm for teaching among our staff and by demonstrating to the students the rewards of being academically active," Chris Madlena, principal at Life Christian School and Academy in Tacoma, Washington, told Education World. Discussion of this goal will be the focus of in-service and staff meetings. Madlena will solicit ideas for reaching that goal from the teachers.
"I also plan to improve staff morale by recognizing teachers and staff achievements, and their duty above and beyond the call," said Madlena. "I will be raising the praise with staff, visiting their classrooms more, and providing special treats -- putting little gifts in their mailboxes, taking them to lunch on their birthdays, and giving the gift of time.
"I have found that when teachers realize that they are respected for who they are and what they do, it carries over into the classroom and thus to the students," added Madlena. "That makes everyone happier to be at school."
In Louisiana, improving staff morale is high on the list for Marguerite McNeely, principal of Oak Hill High School in Hineston. "This year, staff members will be rewarded with weekly recognitions for outstanding lessons and activities, and awards will be given to a Teacher of the Month and Teacher of the Year," said McNeely. "We'll also hold birthday parties, seasonal parties, and a summer barbecue."
Nancy Pominek has plans for improving staff morale at Abraham Clark High School in New Jersey, where she is a vice principal. First, she plans to address staff concerns about building renovations. In addition, she will include staff in planning the agendas for staff meetings, a mentoring program will be initiated for new teachers, monthly certificates will be awarded for perfect attendance, and she will announce a staff member of the month.
CURRICULUM A LEADING FOCUS OF SCHOOL GOALS
Reading improvement tops many principals' lists of curriculum goals. In Jasper, Alabama, principal Jim Clark has set a goal of 100 percent literacy for students at T.R. Simmons Elementary School. That goal will require some adjustments to instruction, Clark said. To help achieve that goal, next summer he plans to offer 10 days of Alabama Reading Initiative Training for all takers on his staff. If all goes according to plan, Simmons Elementary will be a Literacy Demonstration Site next year.
Reviewing science curriculum will be another major thrust in the year ahead, Clark told Education World. "We will continue to train our classroom teachers in our Hands-On Activity Science Program (HASP)," he said. "The program was designed by NASA in cooperation with several colleges across the state. The colleges trained master teachers in specific modules of the curriculum. Those master teachers then trained teachers in other schools." That cycle will continue as new modules are added each year.
"We will continue our technology plan" in the year ahead, principal Betty Peltier told Education World. That plan calls for teachers to continually improve their technology skills. "Our goal is to have all teachers move beyond [using technology for] simple fact-finding."
"Linking learning to life" is the vision at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida. There the whole staff will work in concert to connect classroom lessons with real-world situations, principal Les Potter told Education World. "We have a volunteer coordinator -- a parent -- who is linking our school to businesses and community leaders who will mentor our students," said Potter. The staff has applied for grants to assist with any expenses for the program, which includes frequent field trips.
"We even have several faculty members who got their bus driver certification so they could transport students around the area," added Potter. "That will save quite a bit of money."
Character education will be a focus at Abraham Clark High School, said Nancy Pominek. The program the school plans to institute this year includes rewards for students and staff who display good character behaviors.
Curricular consistency is Amos Kornfeld's goal at Piermount Village Elementary School in New Hampshire. "We adopted Everyday Math two years ago, and now we are trying to get the entire staff on the same page for writing and reading," Kornfeld told Education World. Kornfeld is excited about an ancient Greece unit that the whole school will participate in this year, and about working with the staff to create consistent report cards.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT A COMMON GOAL
Staff development was another common thread that linked the Principal Files principals' goals discussion.
Amos Kornfeld and his staff will be implementing a new supervision policy based on Research for Better Teaching (RBT). This will be a year-long effort; by the end of the school year, "RBT concepts and strategies should be part of our vernacular in staff meetings," Kornfeld added.
In Sacramento, administrator Lyn McCarty will be focusing her efforts on staff development and monitoring/coaching activities bent on the notion that more consistent literacy instruction can be achieved across classrooms and school sites within the district. "We have the curriculum. We have the vision," McCarty told Education World. "Now we need to bring teachers into sync. We plan to provide reflective collegial planning time and to support teachers who are continuing to familiarize themselves with the methods and materials through ongoing training and coaching."
Professional development is one of principal Marie Kostick's goals too. Her staff at Goodwyn Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, will have regular opportunities to participate in in-service programs at the school and system level, and they will be encouraged to attend regional workshops. Last month, the staff participated in a workshop organized around Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
PARENT INVOLVEMENT, MENTORING, HONOR ROLL...
When we asked our P-File principals to share their goals, we set one ground rule; nobody could say that "raising test scores" is a goal. That goal is a forgone conclusion -- a no-brainer -- in these days of high-stakes testing and accountability. We wanted to hear about the other important goals our principals would be working toward!
However, several principals couldn't resist making comments about raising scores. Betty Peltier, of Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana, took issue with the phrase "raising test scores." "I have a personal problem with using that often-used phrase as a goal," Peltier told Education World. "I try to emphasize to my teachers that our goal is to increase our students' learning as evidenced by the test scores. That perspective helps keep them focused on the real reason we are here."
In addition to "increasing students' learning," Peltier hopes to make headway in a continuing effort to get parents involved. "We were very successful last year with our grade level nights," Peltier explained. "Each grade, K through 6, had a grade level night for parents. We provided dinner, baby-sitters, and an overview of the grade level program."
"The parent night effort was funded through a grant," Peltier explained. "I was able to pay the teachers a presentation stipend for the hours they prepared and presented.
"We had a great turnout!" she added.
Brad Auten hopes to create a mentor program at Lincoln Elementary School in Monticello, Illinois. "We have a number of students from single-parent homes who could benefit from more positive adult interaction," Auten told Education World. "I have meetings scheduled with our middle school principal, social worker, a few teachers from our building, staff from the local mental health clinic, and a community member who has had some experience with a mentoring program."
"We are currently applying for grants that might help fund this endeavor," Auten added. "If we can operate such a program, all mentors will undergo training."
At Goodwyn Junior High, Marie Kostick hopes to raise SAT reading and writing scores to above the national average. In addition, it is her goal to increase the number of honor roll students by 20 percent. To achieve that goal, the staff will take every opportunity to educate students and parents about high academic expectations; promote a school culture of improvement; recognize academic achievement through assemblies and breakfasts, and with prizes; and seek innovative ideas for increasing student achievement.
Finally, Jim Clark has a most worthy goal -- surviving this school year! The state of Alabama has cut the education budget across the board to account for income shortfalls. Clark's budget has been prorated [cut] 6.2 percent, and additional cuts are expected. "So far, I have lost two certified teachers, one assistant principal, and six paraprofessionals," Clark told Education World. "That calculates to approximately $250,000 in chopped salaries."
We hope things improve for Jim. That's our goal for him!