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Dear Santa Claus...

Education World recently asked principals, "If you could ask for and receive one gift for your school, what would that gift be?" Take a look at what they said!

He's making a list; And checking it twice. If principals got what they wished for, Wouldn't that be nice?

'Tis the season for wishing. But why should "wishing" be limited to little ones? Surely, every school administrator has a holiday wish list

Principal Files Image Education World invited our Principal Files principals around the world to sit on Santa's lap and to answer the question If you could ask for and receive *one* gift for your school this holiday season, what would that gift be? We eavesdropped on the wishes that principals -- naughty and nice -- whispered into Santa's ear. Here's a bit of what we heard...


"I would want a school where class size was 10 students per teacher, with social worker/counselors for every 25-50 students, where each student had a laptop computer with Internet access, personal email, andaccompanying systems at home. My school would have every parent actively involved, by volunteering in classrooms, and[my] school would be a peaceable school free of bullying, name calling, and violence. Every child would go home to a loving family free of ridicule and put-downs."

But we said you could have one wish! What would that wish be?

Forced to narrow her wish list above to just one item, Lucie Boyadjian, principal at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, Illinois, said, "How can I decide? But if I had to choose I would probably want the low class size. So much research supports the effects of class size on student performance."

Even though Boyadjian doesn't have all the things on her list, she says, "I can honestly say I am well on the way. I like knowing that I help provide for a safe and fun place for kids to be."


"I have always enjoyed practical gifts," said John Grady, principal at Fairgrounds Junior High School in Nashua, New Hampshire.

So what did Grady ask Santa for? "Substitute teachers for all classrooms when a teacher is out," said Grady, adding, "Our area of the country has a severe substitute shortage!"

Other principals were thinking "practical" too. "We are a technology school," says Bonita Henderson, assistant principal at Pleasant Ridge School in Cincinnati. "We have computers in every classroom and a state-of-the-art school-wide teleconferencing system. However, not all of the computers and printers are working. I would wish that every single computer and printer be in tiptop shape and connected to the Internet."

And classroom space is high on the list of practical gifts that principals are asking for this holiday season.

"The gift I would appreciate would be an addition to my school of a large, all-purpose meeting room for holding faculty meetings, small assemblies, and the like," said one Connecticut school administrator.

"At the risk of being unimaginative and basic, I'd have to say that every school in which I've worked had a serious lack of classroom space, small group space, cafeteria space, and conference space," says Joe Lazarski, principal at Ray Middle School in Baldwinsville, New York. "So if I had a wish, particularly for the school where I am now, I'd go with more building square footage, instructionally and otherwise."

"It's a shame to let the limitations of a structure dictate the programs you can and cannot implement, but that's exactly what happens," adds Lazarski. "I can't think of anything that impacts students and teachers more than a serious lack of space."

Floretta Plummer's location -- in Portmore, Jamaica -- is a world away from Joe Lazarski's, but her need is similar. At the Naggo Head Primary School, where Plummer is the principal, students attend school in shifts, with approximately eight hundred students on each shift. The first shift runs from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., while the second shift is from 12:30 to 5:30.

"The school is situated in a suburban area with the majority of the parents travelling an approximate twenty miles to the city of Kingston [to work]," says Plummer. "Due to the fact that parents work out of the Portmore area, the children of the evening shift are usually brought to school by 8:00 a.m. This creates a problem as the school does not have the proper facilities to host these children who are at least four-and-a-half hours early for school."

"If we were to receive a gift it would be greatly appreciated if it were funds to build a proper [space] for those students," says Plummer. "The approximate cost would be at least $3,000."


Maria Sells would like the gift of "time." A few more days off each year would be nice, she says.

Before you jump to conclusions, Sells is a director of special education for prison facilities. "Our schools are in session year-round, 260 days. Our teachers get only two days off [for Christmas]! If they want more days off, they have to use sick days or personal days. In doing so, those teachers taking time off put more responsibility on the remaining teachers to continue classes."

"My gift would be at least a week of time off for the entire school at each facility with pay as a holiday," says Sells. "The gift of time is the most precious gift I think we could give to teachers working in the facilities with offenders."


"My gift to students would be parents who are supportive of them," says Laura B. Crochet, principal of the Genesis Alternative High School in Houma, Louisiana. "Too many of my alternative students have been parentally abandoned. They would love the gift of someone to guide them and help clear the path for a future. As it stands they are being guided by their own un-sophisticated ideas."

"I would like parents to allow their children to accept the natural consequences of their choices and actions," says Mary Ellen Imbo, principal at Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. "This would create a more responsible society, reduce conflict and violence, and create a better learning environment."

Sylvia Hooker, principal at Fairmount Alternative School in Newnan, Georgia, is looking outside her school's walls for support too. "I would like the men and women of our school community to come into our school (which is an alternative school) and spend some time with these youth that so desperately need them."

"People in the corporate sector, of which I was a member for 18 years before becoming an educator, say they want a vibrant, thriving, community," adds Hooker. "They say they want young people to be steered in the right direction and to become positive future leaders of our society, yet they cannot find a lunch hour once or twice each month to stop by to give these young people encouragement. [W]e have students who have poor reputations, poor family lives, and negative self-esteem. I would want the gift of active involvement, and love and charity for our students."

Ah, a gift that gives back to the giver!


"If there is one thing that I would like for our school to haveit would be the 'acknowledgement' of all the hard work and good things that we do on a daily and weekly basis," says Dee Manitzas, principal of the Accelerated Middle School in San Antonio, Texas. "There are so many good things that go by unrecognized It seems that a school district should recognize a school every week throughout the year so the community knows what is happening."

A little less politics and less infighting by school board members would be a nice gift, says one California principal. "The constant turmoil over the years has cost the district knowledgeable personnel at all levels and routinely challenges the best efforts at raising morale. But most of all, the fussing constantly distracts from focusing all efforts on helping learners achieve more in a humane fashion."

School administrator Paul McCarty agrees that politics has no place in education. "Allow the spirit of the individuals to lift the learning to levels that we can only imagine through trust and guidance and not mandates by those that don't have any idea of the process," says McCarty. "As I listen to people in California speak constantly of testing and working to make our schools more effective by monitoring tests -- tests that aren't even aligned with state curriculum -- then I get defensive and protective of those who are out there doing a good job and providing a good education to their students."


The need for time to provide quality staff training was perhaps the most frequent "wish" that Santa heard from the Principal Files principals.

That was the first reaction of Patrick Bocking. "A generous -- very generous -- budget to hire supply teachers to free up our people to attend workshops and learning institutes, to consult with colleagues, to engage in team building and planning and develop coaching relationships would be a fine gift to find under the school's Christmas tree," says Bocking, vice principal at Five Mile Public School in Thunder Bay, Ontario (Canada).

"I would ask my education system for enough trained staff to adequately work with those students in my school who have literacy and numeracy problems, so that when they leave my school at the end of year 10, every student was confident and competent in those skills," said Greg Robinson, principal at Ginninderra District High School in Canberra, Australia. "In other words, their skills could match expectations and set them up for life."

"Quality training for staff and the time and money to provide this training" tops the gift list of Jack Burns, chief administrator at South Pacific Academy in Pago Pago, American Samoa. "The one thing I believe that will make the difference in education is quality training for all staff. This training mustprovide practical solutions to problems being faced by school staff."

"This training is not a one-shot deal," adds Burns, "but recurring in a spiral approach. By this I mean it provides information, gives staff an opportunity to apply the lesson, revisits the lesson and the results of the staff efforts, evaluates the results and then builds on the success.In short, give me a staff that is modeling learning and willing to self-evaluate and I will give you inspired students who will learn."


To all the principals who have been so willing to lend their voices to this year's Principal Files stories, and to all those who've read and responded to those stories May all your wishes for the holidays and the year ahead come true!

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 12/14/1998
Last updated 11/07/2006