Test scores aren't the only measure of success in today's schools. We asked our Principal Files principal team to reflect on the past year in their schools and to share with us the biggest achievements -- the "success stories" -- of the year. Their successes big and small offer food for thought for all school administrators as they plan ahead toward a new school year. Included: Links to archived Principal Files articles that offer additional guidance for the school year ahead.
I once heard a principal refer to the paperwork part of her job as "adminis-trivia." I thought that was a great play on words -- and a more-than-apt description of the part of the job that takes up a good chunk of most principals' valuable time.
Before they got too caught up in the end-of-year adminis-trivia, Education World invited our Principal Files principals to reflect on their many successes during the past school year. We asked them to reflect on those successes that made their schools better places to work and learn.
A handful of principals shared their "success stories" -- so we thought we'd end the school year on a high note by sharing those achievements with you. Perhaps one of these success stories will plant in you a seed that will reap benefits in the school year that lies ahead.
BUILDING STRONG FOUNDATIONS
Laura Guggino is about to complete her first year as a school principal. "The learning curve for me this year was off the charts," Guggino told Education World. Getting a firm grip on the climate and culture of the Rhame Avenue Elementary School (East Rockaway, New York) community was one of her greatest accomplishments.
"I have gotten to know the staff members and many parents and members of the community," said Guggino. "Creating those strong bonds was paramount for me." She looks forward to building on that strong foundation in the year ahead.
Tony Pallija is a veteran school administrator, but he and Guggino shared something in common this past year. Pallija, a principal for ten years, was a "first-year principal" at an Ohio high school. "One of my goals was to establish a new discipline program that would be firm yet fair to all students and staff," said Pallija. No longer would a few unruly students be allowed to disturb the work of the majority of students who come to school wanting to learn, Pallija said.
"We created the policy by getting teachers, parents, and students all on the same page," explained Pallija. "We did it with a lot of hard work, with letters home to parents, with meetings with students, and with training for staff.
"The result is that teachers feel they can teach again," said Pallija. "They know they have support when it comes to dealing with those few students who are [causing problems]. ... The policy is working and the climate of the building has really gotten better."
GETTING PARENTS INVOLVED
A number of principals feel their efforts to increase parent involvement were among their biggest successes of the year.
"We know students do much better at all levels when parents are involved," said Tony Pallija. "We worked very hard to get parents into the building and more involved with their high-school-age students. We tried to make our building more user-friendly. We used many of the techniques that elementary schools use."
Among the techniques Pallija and his staff used were mailing letters to all parents before each Parents Night and asking all teachers to call at least five parents they really needed to see.
"It worked," added Pallija. "We had more parents than ever before at our open houses and conference nights.
"School success is a team effort at all levels," added Pallija. "Back-to-School Night can work at the high school level, but you really have to work to communicate to parents that it is still 'cool' to be at school checking on your kids."
At Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington, principal Pat Green used a variety of methods to bring the school and community closer together. "We hosted a Math Fair, a Science Fair, and a Culture Fair this year," said Green. "All three were well attended events. They showcased student work and involved members of the community who presented workshops to help us all learn how the world outside of school really does connect to what is being taught in our classes."
Math Night is an excellent example of how an event can draw parents into the school, Green explained. "The night included 15 workshops to help parents learn how to help students with math homework," she said. "More than 700 people attended that evening event. For a school that enrolls 750 students, that turnout was phenomenal."
Betty Peltier, principal of Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana, saw increased parent involvement too. "Our Family Nights were a huge success," Peltier told Education World. Part of the reason for that success might be that students had a vested interest in encouraging their parents to show up. "We rewarded students who came with their parents with a pass for a homework-free night," she explained.
BUILDING STUDENT SUCCESS
Developing successful students was the goal of many principals, including Betty Peltier. In Louisiana, schools are given a banner and reward money based on their scores on standardized tests. Peltier and her staff proudly displayed their banner, and they used their reward money to purchase a Math Maniac T-shirt for every student in the school. "The T-shirts were designed by two students who won a school-wide logo contest," Peltier told Education World.
Each grade level set a math standard to be achieved. For example,
Students earned their T-shirts as they achieved their grade-level goal, explained Peltier. "The students began to wear T-shirts over their uniform shirts," said Peltier. "That put the pressure on other students to earn their shirts. Parents got involved so their children could earn a shirt. It turned out to be a great learning activity."
In Washington, at Cedar Heights Junior High, teachers work together to recognize successful students. Staff members nominate students for special recognition awards that are presented at the traditional Freshman Farewell for ninth graders. This year, more than 25 students were nominated, principal Pat Green told Education World. All nominees made their way through multiple stages in the selection process.
"Parents and students receive letters of praise through all stages of the process," explained Green. "After four rounds of voting, the final three nominees select a teacher to introduce them to the assembled crowd at the year-end event. After all of the introductions are made, the final award winner is announced and that student speaks on behalf of the whole class; he or she thanks parents and staff for supporting them as students, citizens, and young adults."
Across the country in Port Orange, Florida, a special honor was bestowed this year on Silver Sands Middle School. Principal Les Potter shared with Education World that the school was selected by the College Board to be one of 30 middle schools in the nation that will pilot their Pacesetter program. This is an initiative to enhance pedagogy and curriculum at the middle school level, to ease the transition to high school for students, and to successfully enroll students in and complete rigorous advanced placement courses. "Initially, courses are math and language arts," Potter told Education World, "but hopefully course offerings will expand to include social studies, science, and Spanish.
"We believe Pacesetter will help us raise standards and expectations for our students," added Potter. "We start the program in August. Our teachers have been selected and will start training in Texas this summer."
PAYING ATTENTION TO TEACHERS' NEEDS
"Teacher recognition is important both for staff morale and for instructional growth," said principal Pat Green. "As a result, I look for ways to ensure we nominate good candidates for various awards. By seeking out opportunities for acknowledgement, as well as resources to help support instructional collaboration and growth, excitement happens and teaching and learning improves." The following were among the many recognitions that Green helped to bring to staff members at her school:
Principal Brian Hazeltine counts among his successes this year an effort to confront concerns expressed by staff about unequal numbers of prep periods. Hazeltine is in a unique position as principal of Airdrie Koinonia Christian School; the school, located in Airdrie, Alberta (Canada), spans grades K to 12. "There are a lot of differences between teaching at each level," noted Hazeltine. "There are also a lot of differences in class size, subjects taught, and other facets of the job.
"My goal was to make the workload both reasonable and equitable for all teachers," said Hazeltine. "Obviously, phys ed teachers have very little need for prep or marking time. Math teachers need more time, and English teachers need even more. Elementary teachers were all fairly similar to one another. The differences in the times they reported had more to do with their personalities than the grade they taught."
Hazeltine had each teacher estimate the amount of prep time and grading time for each subject they taught for every grade. He also asked them to estimate the amount of time each extra-curricular activity took. "I then created a spreadsheet that factored in all the variable elements," Hazeltine explained. "I allowed time for staff meetings, parent meetings, supervision. ... I allowed extra time for brand-new teachers or teachers who were taking on a new grade level or subject. I worked out a total workload for each teacher and then the total time for extra-curricular activities. ... Now everyone can see the load each person is carrying. If teachers want more prep time, they have to be prepared to do more extra-curricular activities.
"The process has made decision making more transparent, and it ensures that working conditions are fair and reasonable," added Hazeltine.
GOALS MEASUREABLE AND MEANINGFUL
Making better use of technology was among the goals toward which Betty Peltier and her staff made measurable progress in the school year just completed. The effort was twofold: to make better use of technology with the students and when communicating among ourselves.
"This was a big success," said Peltier. Technology workshops were given for teachers at different levels on the technology learning curve. The workshops were well attended and the results impressive.
Some other signs of success cannot be measured by tests, rubrics, or surveys. "Just the other day one of the parents in our school dropped off a package for a student who is challenged in many ways," Pat Green told Education World. "This child lives with his brother, his brother's girlfriend, and the couple's young child. Home is a 12-foot camping trailer."
The anonymous gift included new clothing as well as an artist's sketchpad and calligraphy pens -- since the student likes to draw, said Green.
"When parents reach out to other children, it's heartwarming," added Green. That thoughtful gift from an anonymous parent, along with special attention from a caring staff, may have created a turning point in that child's life.
Now that is a success story!