Many principals have the training and desire to work on curriculum and instructional strategies, but are buried under administrative tasks. School Administration Managers (SAMs) free principals to meet with students and teachers to improve instruction and learning. Included: Descriptions of how principals, SAMs, divide responsibilities.
Many educators become principals with plans to mentor teachers, evaluate and select curriculum, and study and improve instructional strategies. Instead, they find themselves trapped in their offices by discipline issues, paperwork, and staff and parent demands for their time.
For some principals, help has come in the form of a school administration manager (SAM.). Often a retired school administrator, the role of the SAM is to do everything possible to maximize the amount of time principals get to spend working with students and teachers to improve instruction and learning.
The hope and the expectation for deploying SAMs are that once principals get back to using their expertise as instructional leaders, teacher confidence and satisfaction will rise and student achievement will improve.
Usually parents and staff view the principals job as management, said Mark Shellinger, national director of the SAM Project. Were asking the school and community to believe that instructional leadership is important.
The SAMs number one job is to offload management responsibilities from the principal, Shellinger emphasized. That includes taking on the budget and other fiscal matters; supervising transportation, buildings and grounds, and non-certified staff; and even managing student discipline in some cases. Some schools with SAMs also have assistant principals, while in others the principal has been working solo.
The idea of providing assistants for principals grew out of a study of the amount of time 20 Jefferson County (Kentucky) school district principals were spending on instruction. The study was financed by the New York City-based Wallace Foundation. The study led to the SAM project beginning in 2004 with three schools in Jefferson County. The program now operates in 205 schools in nine states, including 29 elementary schools in Louisville.
SAMs undergo training before they are assigned to principals. The Wallace Foundation provides funding for the SAM, a coach for the principal, and data collection. The foundation regularly asks principals to report back how they are spending their time.
Since employing SAMs, Jefferson County Schools officials have seen improvements in instructional leadership and student achievement, according to Frederika Hargis, a former elementary school principal who now is the districts coordinator of administrator recruitment and development. Hargis had been slated to receive a SAM this year before accepting her current position, and knows well how hard it is for principals to juggle their roles.
I was looking forward to it, she said to Education World, about having a SAM. I felt I just couldnt spend enough time as an instructional leader. I was frustrated because I couldnt get the instructional piece going -- at most, I could only spend an hour a day in classrooms. Then people got angry because I was not available.
Principals must want to work with SAMs, stressed Shellinger. Administrators need to realize that while they will have more help, they also will have the additional responsibility of demonstrating improvement in student achievement through their decisions about curriculum and teaching strategies.
Data shows that there is improvement if principals are instructional leaders. But rarely do they have time for that, noted Dr. Martha Bruckner, superintendent of the Council Bluffs (Iowa) Community School District, which received a $425,000, three-year grant from the Iowa West Foundation to fund seven SAMs beginning this year. Were not just giving the principals help; were giving them raised expectations. We want principals in classrooms working with teachers and students. We have been crystal clear that if after three years data shows that principals who were instructional leaders have not seen improvement in student achievement, state tests, and any other assessments, they have not met the goal. If after three years, data shows they made a big difference, well find a way to fund it.
Before a principal gets started with a SAM, a trained observer follows the principal for a day and logs, in five-minute increments, how he or she spends time. The time chunks are listed under the categories of management or instruction. Often principals think they are spending more time on instruction than they actually are, Shellinger told Education World. Once the data is collected and reviewed, principals set goals with the SAMs for how much time they want to spend on different tasks.
Being an instructional leader actually is harder [than being a manager] and there is not much immediate recognition, Shellinger said.
Principals with SAMs usually meet with them and their secretaries every morning, at which time the SAMs brief the principals on management items and the two confer on instructional issues. The secretary may outline the principals schedule for the day in terms of class visits and teacher meetings.
At first, faculty and parents can be uncertain about the breakdown of responsibilities for principals and SAMs. Principals often have to get permission from teachers, parents, and kids in order to do this, Shellinger noted. But the roles get sorted out. We learned to balance that, said Philip Poore, principal of Schaffner Traditional Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the districts first three principals to have a SAM. Initially, if there was an issue between a student and a teacher, the teacher came to me. There are some faculty members who are just not receptive to anything. But they came around because we were able to help them do their jobs better and helped them with their kids.
Don Lester, a SAM for the past five years at Mojave Vista Elementary School in Victorville, California, came to the school from the business world and used his customer-service experience to get to know the faculty and community. Prior to working as a SAM he ran a janitorial company and also had a job in the aerospace industry.
The more Im here, the more parents have been accepting, Lester told Education World. When I first started, I went out in front [of the school] and spent time greeting and talking to parents. I think they do know I want to do the best for their kids.
A districts central office staff also may have to change its thinking. Its a cultural change, Shellinger said. Superintendents have to realize principals will not be at their beck and call. They have to realize that if principals are instructional leaders, they wont be responsible for management issues.
The needs of the principal determine the type of skills a SAM brings to a school. Since so much of the work in which principals get caught up is managerial, Shellinger initially sought out SAM applicants from the business sector. Now while some are former businesspeople, others are retired educators, secretaries, military personnel, or aspiring school administrators who view the job as good training.
Some of it is a matter of trust, said David Schweitzer, principal of Gerald W. Kirn Junior High School in Council Bluffs, who started working with a SAM this year. Some people have trouble delegating to a SAM. The key is to take stock of a SAMs abilities, skills, and talents and blend them with the talents of the staff.
Several principals who have SAMs or have worked with them in the past said that the SAMS forced them to shift their focus and, in some cases, allowed them to feel like educators again. Some saw dramatic gains in the amount of time they spend on instruction and professional development in just a few months.
Most principals calendars are empty, Shellinger noted. Thats because their days usually are interruption-driven. But SAM principals calendars usually are full of appointments. They schedule conversations with students and teachers, and they might work as coaches.
Before Schweitzer started formally working with his SAM, Leonard Faraci, this year, Faraci shadowed Schweitzer for a day, as is typical, and recorded how he spent his time. After reviewing Faracis notes, Schweitzer learned he spent only 15 percent of his time on instruction. With Faracis help, by October 1 Schweitzer had increased his instructional time to 45 percent. The goal is to hit 60 percent by the end of the year.
The biggest difference is when Im in classes with teachers, I can spend 10-to-15 minutes of time, write down information, and provide written feedback, Schweitzer told Education World. Before this, the opportunities for written feedback were few and far between.
Poore, principal of Schaffner Traditional Elementary School, estimated that before he started working with a SAM, he spent 35 to 40 percent of his time on instructional leadership, in part because the only other administrator in the school is a counselor who generally is buried under special education-related paperwork.
By the end of my time with the SAM, the amount of my time [spent in classes] was up to between 80 and 85 percent, Poore continued. Gains in student test scores also outpaced previous levels as well as the increases in district scores, he added. I spent more time working with parents, kids, and teachers. We set goals for how much time I would spend on instructional leadership.
Having a SAM completely changed his job, Poore added. When something came across my desk, I knew it would go to he [the schools SAM] or I. Eventually, the staff learned to whom items should be forwarded.
From 2004 to 2007, Poore had a full-time SAM who handled, among other things, all the discipline and transportation issues. Now Poore is back working on his own, because of a reallocation of resources. Even without a SAMs help, though, he is committed to his new role as an instructional leader. Last year, Poores first in four years without a SAM, he spent 50 percent of his time on instructional leadership. So some of what I learned really benefited me.
Relinquishing control over aspects of the schools operation can be difficult initially for some principals, noted Shellinger, and Poore said that was a struggle for him at first. It took a while for me to let go of things, he told Education World. It was very challenging to change my behavior. We had to consciously make sure I was not doing other peoples jobs. We both had enough to do. The hardest thing for me to give up was the budget. If something happened with the money, there would be a big problem.
Martha McCarthy, principal of Mojave Vista Elementary School, said she has been able to free herself of almost all administrative tasks thanks to a series of effective SAMs and secretaries over the past 18 years. McCarthy boasts a paperless office -- her secretary handles all paperwork. She does not even have a computer on her desk. McCarthys secretary reviews her e-mails and prepares her schedule each day.
McCarthy has set the bar high for determining whether she should be pulled from classrooms -- an incident must reach the level of a media event to disrupt her schedule. She has asked to be notified if police cars or a television crew are outside the school.
Mojave Vistas SAM, Lester, takes care of the operational side of the school. He is responsible for transportation, supervision of the grounds and facilities, the budget, disaster preparation, attendance, and even discipline.
Ive also trained him to delegate, McCarthy added. We have outlined every role in the office. If not, teachers would perceive us all as one. We direct people to the proper person. If a teacher comes in asking to get something repaired, one of us directs the teacher to the right person.
If a parent has a problem, McCarthys secretary refers the parent to the classroom teacher, assistant principal, the SAM, and then, only if necessary, to the principal. There are weeks I will have no parent calls, McCarthy said. Then there are weeks when I might have two or three calls out of 1,100 kids.
While the SAMs who are not educators have to learn how schools do business, both Poore and McCarthy said their SAMs fit in so easily that they even felt comfortable having them handle most of the student discipline referrals.
All of the SAMS with business backgrounds with whom she has worked have been outstanding, according to McCarthy. Business is about customer service and results, she said. All of them have been males, had children, been coaches, or been active in their churches. All have been effective. Teachers have valued them as men of character.
Lester told Education World that he spends more time on student discipline than he originally anticipated.
I was surprised at how many kids have so much trouble following the rules, and parents dont have time to discipline them, he said. I try to help them understand that we have certain rules and if you break them, there are consequences. I give each one five minutes to have his or her say, and then I investigate the best I can. I want to have relationships with the kids -- I say Im not mad at them, but there are consequences for their behavior.
Lester stops short of suspending or expelling students, but often makes recommendations to McCarthy about the consequences a student should face.
To prepare for his new role as school disciplinarian, Lester studied the districts discipline policy and relied on personal experience. A lot of it is common sense, he said. I raised three children, worked with and ran youth groups, and coached basketball. Ive been around kids a lot.
Poore had told Shellinger that if a SAM couldnt help with discipline, he didnt want one. Thats whats keeping us [principals] out of the classroom, Poore said.
Shellinger wanted one of the three Kentucky principals piloting the SAM program to choose a non-educator, and Poore said he was certain it would not be him. But then he selected a former plant manager, who had supervised 100 people. He had a can-do attitude.
Poore felt confident assigning him the bulk of discipline cases. He was the first responder to any discipline issue -- he contacted me if it was serious. Poores SAM participated in some training about discipline, shadowed Poore for a few days, and showed good instincts. He just had it -- I felt he would be able to do it, Poore said. He just knew how to talk to kids.
Poores former SAM enjoyed working with students so much that he enrolled in a certification program, became a classroom teacher, and now is working in the district.
Other principals find that working with a retired educator is more comfortable and allows for give and take on educational as well as managerial issues.
In our case, all of the SAMs have some background in education, said Bruckner of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Three of them are retired principals. They understand how hard all the management stuff is.
Schweitzers SAM, Faraci, is a former elementary school principal and teacher who worked in the district for 39 years. I have a good understanding of the district, what it is doing, and its goals, Faraci told Education World.
Almost all of the SAMs responsibilities are familiar to Faraci. Its everything Id done anyway --and I have an opportunity to see a person work at things he does best. He [Schweitzer] is focused on curriculum and has a detailed sheet of professional development programs. Its a great opportunity for administrators to do what they should be doing.
Faraci added that his new position fits his definition of a principal. I think of a principal as a roofer. I cover all things. I manage the building.
The school also has an assistant principal who helps with major student discipline cases that are ongoing and pervasive and is the lead administrator on school climate and culture issues, Schweitzer said.
Faraci and Schweitzer meet every morning to review what Schweitzer accomplished the previous day. Part of his job is to track how I spend my time, code and record it -- down to the detail of which teachers I visited -- to see if Im doing a balanced coverage of the building, according to Schweitzer.
Now that Schweitzer has been freed from the emergency-room-type triage of phone calls and walk-ins that fill the main office, he is able to concentrate on what he considers his strengths as an educator.
I have an interest in instructional supervision and talent and training in that area, he said. Ive been looking at instructional practices, dimensions of learning, and what works strategies. Im looking to see if teachers are addressing the what, where, when, how, and why of learning. I note the representation of those things in the lessons Im watching. Teachers appreciate the affirmation -- they understand there is room for improvement.
And because he does not visit classes just for teacher evaluations anymore, Schweitzer says teachers have become more relaxed and open to his presence.
The two can consult on instructional and managerial issues. We can mentor one another in certain situations, Faraci said. We give ideas to each other. I do appreciate being asked to give input in the curriculum area. I was surprised at the amount of time and energy spent on managerial aspects of the job.
Faraci now wonders how he functioned for so many years without a SAM. I didnt have time to help with instruction, he said. I struggled as a principal to get into classes. There were so many things that needed managing at once. I would get in at 7 a.m. to do paperwork and by 7:45, my time was done. You just never knew what was going to happen when the doors opened.
Particularly now that principals have more responsibilities and pressures than ever before, having a designated school building manager makes sense, several people said.
They [responsibilities] were increasing every year when I was a principal, Faraci said. Society has demanded that we do more for kids than just educate them.
Scheduling time to work on instruction instead of relegating it to whenever principals can fit it in ensures it will get done, he added. Its a new situation for the district, so given the right opportunities, administrators will get a better chance to look at themselves as instructional leaders. They will be better able to talk to parents about what their children are doing in class -- because theyve seen it.
Just having an additional staff member, whose responsibilities are not as succinctly defined as a SAMs, doesnt necessarily make a difference, Poore noted. Even if you have an assistant principal, the principal doesnt always change behaviors, he said. Just adding another body doesnt make that happen.
But knowing that they have someone in charge they can trust -- someone who is being paid to push them out of their offices -- can make the difference for a lot of principals.
Thats what SAMs are all about -- getting principals back in the classrooms, said Lester. They need to get back to being instructional leaders. Thats what their education is for.