Principals can make a seemingly small windfall like $10,000 go a long way. That's what we learned this month when we gave members of our Principal Files team $10,000 to spend. Included: Principals offer wise tips for spending a windfall in ways that add true value to their schools.
Imagine that your district approached you with a free check for $10,000. After we picked you up off the floor, what would you do with that $10,000?
We know that $10,000 is not a lot of money, but that's the reason we chose that amount. It isn't a large sum, but it is a windfall that can still impact a school in meaningful ways. And we think our P-Files principals spent wisely.
Jason Bednar is the principal at Owen Elementary School in Naperville, Illinois. There, he and his teachers are committed to Response to Intervention (RTI), a strategy for helping students who have not been identified as "special education" but who, nonetheless, might be at risk of falling through the cracks. Bednar would use his $10,000 to purchase tools his teachers could use to reach kids on the edge of leaping forward.
"I'd like to add The Six-Minute Solution to our array of available resources. And I would make sure that we had enough workbooks to service every student who needs additional help."
Bednar assumes there would be a small amount of money left over. "With that cash, I'd buy digital audio recorders so we could create audio history files of students reading aloud. That way, we can share students' growth over time to parents and among colleagues."
Reading would be the focus of Joan Pinkerton's spending, too. "All principals want their students to become proficient readers and to love reading," said Pinkerton, who is principal at Kent Primary School in Carmel, New York. "If I had the $10,000, I would give my teachers money and let them go out and buy books and magazines subscriptions that would attract students."
"Think about our different consumers -- boys, girls, reluctant readers, avid readers, teenagers, young adults," added Pinkerton. "What better way to get them all to read than to have books and magazines on hand that they want to read? Books that entice and attract them: series books, award winners, junk books, gross books -- a rich and wide array of books across a substantial range of levels and genres."
For her reasoning, Pinkerton points to experts in the field, such as Dick Allington (Schools That Work), who calls for 500 different books in every classroom library and Jim Trelease (The Read Aloud Handbook) who reminds us all that, "The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it: and the more you like it, the more you do."
"Having classroom libraries full of good reading materials will encourage strong and struggling readers alike," added Pinkerton. "Once the books are in classrooms, all we have to do is provide time for students to read, and time costs us nothing at all."
At Johnston Elementary School in Woodstock, Georgia, principal Keith Ingram has no shortage of ways to spend money that might float his way. "I always keep a Wants List under my desk pad with estimated amounts -- in case someone is looking to give away money."
If an unexpected $10,000 came his way, he would buy a new software package for his fifth grade team to use in the school's computer/language arts writing lab. He figures the site licenses for that Write to Learn software would cost about $3,000.
"Write to Learn is an awesome program that we have in our sixth grade lab," said Ingram. "Every child uses it every day to improve writing. Students submit their writing for review and grading and get feedback in about 20 seconds."
Ingram would use most of the rest of his $10,000 windfall to purchase awards and incentives for students who reach milestones in the Accelerated Reader (AR) program and for students who achieve Merit and Honor Roll recognition each quarter.
"We know when we get our primary-age children fired up about reading, they stay readers all the way through middle school, and the Accelerated Reader program helps teachers do that," Ingram explained.
When Ingram first arrived at Johnston Elementary, he was disappointed to learn that only about 75 students (15 percent of the student body) earned Merit or Honor Roll recognition each quarter. In that statistic, he saw a huge opportunity. "I've used pep talks, assemblies, and loads of cool incentives to help change the perception and culture of our school to one where it is okay to be smart and do your homework."
"Quarterly drawings for prizes such as bicylces, iPods, DVD players, digital cameras, and sports equipment help motivate students to achieve," Ingram told Education World. "And every student who achieves Merit or Honor Roll status gets a goody bag filled with pencils, coupons, and a much-coveted hat sticker."
"That hat sticker was a stroke of luck that has been a huge motivator," added Ingram. "Students who earn Honor or Merit roll status earn a sticker that permits them to wear a hat at school on our Spirit Day the Friday after report cards come out. The hats set those students apart. The stickers also make it very popular to be on the list because students love to wear hats, and this is the only way they can do that at our school."
Ingram does many other special things to recognize kids who achieve academic goals.
"I know the kids love to see their pictures put to music, so I put together a music video that shows students lined up and down the hallways receiving their rewards for being on Honor and Merit Roll. I put the video on the front page of our school Web site."
Academic achievement rolls have jumped from 75 students to 375 students (75 percent of the student body) since incentives were introduced, Ingram reports. In addition, test scores have risen every year.
After spending on Write to Learn and incentives, Ingram would set aside the balance of his $10,000 to "spend on my awesome teachers when they need materials or when there is a conference that they would love to attend."
Rewards are also high on the Wish List of Les Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida. "Grants and state/district funding can be used for most of a school's technology and professional development needs," said Potter. So he would put his windfall money in his teachers' pockets.
"Most of our teachers give rewards -- school supplies, candy, pizza parties, and the like -- to students who do well in class," he said. "My wife teaches fifth grade, and she spends a lot of money out of her pocket; and I know our teachers do the same. I think I could get the most bang for my buck by letting my teachers use the windfall to purchase student rewards."
Although $10,000 sounds like a lot of money to spend on rewards, it really isn't for a school the size of Silver Sands (1,300 students). "My monthly utility bill is over $20,000," said Potter.
"If I had $10,000, I would give teachers something that they are clamoring for: time to spend together," said Karen Mink, principal at O.C. Allen School in Aurora, Illinois.
Since most of Minks' staff has young children, after-school social time is very limited. That's why she would use to the money to pay for a group of subs to cover classes for a school week when an already-scheduled teacher institute day falls on Friday.
"On Monday, I would take the kindergarten and first grade teachers to a resort," said Mink. "In the morning, we would work together to share concerns, plan curriculum, and examine data. In the afternoon, we would use the resort's amenities and enjoy each other's company."
She would repeat this on Tuesday with the second and third grade teachers, and on Wednesday with the fourth and fifth grade.
"Then, on Friday, we would spend the institute day sharing what came out of those meetings as well as a catered lunch," explained Mink.
"The week would combine professional development with relaxation and the opportunity to get to better know one another while doing work that will benefit our kids."
"If there is money left over, I would let the teachers know they are loved and appreciated by getting each of them a new, comfortable chair for the classroom."
Like Mink, Jack Noles would spend his money on professional development.
"It seems we are constantly making do with what is available and that we seldom send staff off for some of the interesting and vibrant training opportunities that are available," said Noles, who is principal at Shallowater (Texas) Intermediate School.
"Sending staff members to professional conferences and workshops shows not only a dedication to current best practices, but to providing fun and exciting training for our staffs," said Noles, adding, "This, in turn, helps motivate and energize teachers."
Bridget Braney is another principal who would spend her windfall on professional development. She would use it to hire a floating substitute teacher.
"Each year that I serve as principal reinforces the value of collegial work," Braney told Education World. Over the years, her staff at Orchard Hill Elementary in South Windsor, Connecticut, has collected loads of data. Initially, the staff passed data along to the reading consultants who passed them on to the central office. But in recent years, the staff have gotten their hands dirty with data.
"We have worked with assessment results, increased our assessment literacy, examined assessment results through data walls [Reeves], common assessments [Ainsworth], and multiple lenses [Bernhardt]. The staff moved from a focus on state data to a focus on local benchmarks, visualizing that data with spreadsheets, graphs, trend lines, cohort comparisons, and cohort tracking."
Floating substitutes, Braney said, "would provide opportunities to meet with teachers for several hours at a time. Teachers find it difficult to plan for full days or multiple release days, but planning for a few hours is manageable. The 3-hour time period provides an opportunity for professional discourse, during which teachers can learn from one another, learn from examining student work, and discuss best paths for instructional practice."
"Lots of progress has been made, yet our progress is dependent upon time so, yes, with $10,000 I would buy precious time," added Braney.
Frank Hagen, retired from principalships in Maryland and Delaware, admits he would be tempted to use the $10,000 to buy MegaMillions or PowerBall tickets to increase the potential payoff and fund a school separate from the district. But pressed for more a more realistic use, he admitted, "I would devote the money to professional development activities for the staff of the school. Specifically, I would pay my best teachers to develop activities and to use them to share their practices with other teachers in the building."
So long as the staff was willing, he would also implement a peer observation program and provide professional development in peer observation.
"We would hire substitute teachers to provide release time for collaborating, observing, providing feedback, and reflecting on teaching skills.
The remaining money would be used for professional development related to data analysis (quantitative and qualitative) for school improvement... and maybe just a few lottery tickets."
Lolli Haws did not need to think long about how she would spend ten grand. "We have fabulous resources and an even more fabulous instructional technology coordinator," said Haws, who is principal at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. "Our technology coordinator's in-services, knowledge, and inspiring way with teachers literally leaves them salivating for more and more access to technology."
Haws would use the windfall from her district to buy Smart Boards and the LCDs and laptops to go with them to install in more classrooms.
"Our teachers love the newer visual presenters that replace overhead and opaque projectors," added Haws. "You can use them to project onto the screen a page from a book, math manipulatives, or any 3-D object."
If Haws had more money -- like three or four times that $10,000 -- she would know exactly what to do with that, too: She would buy new playground equipment to replace old, tired equipment. That costly equipment is a lot to ask a PTA to fundraise, but it will never rise above the line in district-level budget planning priorities, she said.
Cincinnati assistant principal (retired) Bonita Henderson would spend her $10K windfall on technology, too. "Our students need to be on an even keel with students in other countries around the world," said Henderson. "Our students are just as capable and they can succeed, but we must make sure they have the basics they need to be able to compete globally."
Principal Charlotte Jackson knows just what she would do with $10,000.
"Teachers need a respite from the classroom, so I would give their drab lounge a makeover," explained Jackson, principal at Baltimores Alexander Hamilton Elementary School. "Doing that is one thing I could do to let teachers know how important they are to the success and achievement of every student."
That makeover would include
"The happier the teacher -- the better the teaching!" added Jackson.
That teachers' lounge makeover would only use up half of the $10,000. The bulk of the money that remains would be used to upgrade classrooms, particularly the rugs on which student meet during morning meeting and circle time. "Our rugs are more than five years old, and frayed," said Jackson. "At least a quarter of the 22 classrooms need new and lively rugs."
If any money remained after that, Jackson would purchase new overhead projectors and CD players for classrooms. The balance would go toward gift cards from Walmart, Target, and gas stations that could be used to recognize parents and community members who volunteer at least 10 hours a month.
"These ideas for the windfall are aimed to include all members of the learning community," added Jackson.
Kristin Flynn, principal of Eastside Elementary School in Constantine, Michigan, is eager to demonstrate the need for a gym facility. "We need a gymnasium so we do not have to shut down the gym to serve as a cafeteria between 10:50 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.," said Flynn. A new gym would eliminate many scheduling problems that have resulted from a large influx of students -- 100 students in just a few years.
"I am a dreamer," added Flynn, who hopes to make this project happen down the road. "I would look for matching grants that could be used to support this new capital project, and $10,000 would certainly get the ball rolling."
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2010 Education World
Originally published 12/03/2007
Last updated 11/10/2010