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On the First Day of Christmas,
The District Office Gave to Me...


Principals can dream too, can't they? We asked Education World's "Principal Files" team to dream big. We "gave" them $25,000 as a holiday windfall and asked what they would do with it. They had no trouble coming up with ideas! Included: Principals from Rhode Island to Texas, and from Washington to Florida, go on a spending spree!

That was the first reaction of most members of the Principal Files team when we posed the following question:

The central office has just sent you a holiday gift! They added $25,000 to your budget to spend in any way you see fit -- as long as that spending directly benefits teachers or students... What will you do with the surprise gift?

Once our P-Files principals got over the lunacy of the question, however, thoughtful responses flowed easily...

For Jon Romeo, principal at Bradford Elementary School in Westerly, Rhode Island, the answer was an easy and straightforward one: "Books, books, and more books," Romeo told Education World. "Fiction books, non-fiction books, picture books, big books, and little books.

"I would spend that money to ensure that we had enough books to find just the right one to get every student excited about reading," added Romeo. "I'd love to have children thinking 'So many books, so little time'..."


It took principal Marguerite McNeely a moment to get over the shock of the question. "Here in Louisiana, every dollar is short and there are no gifts," she told Education World, "but I can dream. And I can spend too."

McNeely, principal at Oak Hill High School in Hineston, Louisiana, decided she would use the extra bucks to benefit the entire community -- students, teachers, and other community members -- by dividing the dough three ways.

  • She would invest $10,000. That money would be used to create a fund that would draw dividends; the dividends would perpetuate academic awards given annually to deserving students and staff. "It is always important to plan for those who go beyond the norm and to reward them appropriately," said McNeely, who projected that the investment would yield about $500 a year, which would be used to purchase medals and plaques.
  • The health of employees and students could be improved by using another $10,000 to create a health club. "Too many individuals simply do not get enough exercise," McNeely explained. "I have a nice room that is just crying out for equipment. Employees could use the facility before or after school, and students could benefit from it during school hours."
  • So what about the $5000 balance? "I would use it to buy some much-needed outdoor furniture for the school," McNeely said. "We are blessed with beautiful trees and a nice rural setting. With that furniture, the pleasures of nature could be appreciated. Picnic tables and benches with the school's logo would add school spirit too." Those improvements could be used by the entire community, McNeely added, "and there would probably be a little money left to paint ram [the school mascot] paw prints on the sidewalks that lead to the gym and ball fields."


Each month, ED World editors pose a question to our "Principal Files" team. Their responses result in some of the most compelling and practical stories we publish. Following is a sample of P-Files articles you might have missed:

*25 Ways to Motivate Teachers

*Principals Say, "I Wish I Had Taken a Course In..."

*Data Is Making a Difference in These Schools

*Great Staff Meetings: Pointers from the Principals Who Lead Them

*Teachers Urged to Consider Principalship

*Character(istics) Count! -- What Principals Look for When Hiring New Teachers

*The Best and Worst Things About Being a Principal

*Principals Recommend Best Professional Books

*50 Signs Your School Is a Great School

Technology tops the wish lists of many principals. "I would purchase a videoconferencing package, so our kids could take virtual field trips around the world," said Dr. Lolli Haws, principal at Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves, Missouri. "With that technology, our students could participate in 'face-to-face' conversations with other kids and with experts on the topics they are studying.

"I would also buy LCD displays for every two teachers, so they would be able to project computer images for large-screen viewing," added Haws. "And finally, I'd arrange for a permanent substitute to be on hand, say two days a week, to cover classes in one- or two-hour slots so teachers could work one-on-one and in small groups with our technology aide and media specialist. They could explore Web sites, learn additional computer skills, and plan lessons, units, and activities that fully integrate technology into students' learning every day."

Dr. Patricia Green, principal at Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington, thought her building's leadership team might focus on technology purchases too. "We've been blessed with numerous grants that have brought us state-of-the-art technology for our math and science classrooms," Green said, "but we're in need of more technology tools for language arts and social studies, where external funding isn't always easy to acquire."

The money also could be used to enable teams to plan together. Teachers would be compensated for added time required to meet with subject- and grade-level peers. "While we've dedicated a small portion of our budget to release time to accommodate common planning, there never is enough money to do all we would like to do," Green explained.


Principal Deborah Harbin, actually did receive a windfall once -- some additional Title I money she wasn't expecting. "But that $7,000 didn't go far enough," Harbin told Education World.

So what would Harbin, who is principal at Holbrook Elementary School in Houston, Texas, do with triple that amount? "I would send as many of my staff as possible on a 3-day retreat called Capturing Kids' Hearts," she said. "This life-changing event puts educators in touch with why they wanted to teach to begin with. It reminds us that we are powerful role models for our students.

"This training has changed my school... We greet the children each morning with a handshake that is symbolic of the human relationships we are trying to build; we send them home with a handshake as they get on the bus," Harbin explained. "Our students love the attention and the human touch. That's what we all need more of!"

Principal Teri Stokes would also assign the windfall to professional development. "I would send every teacher out of town to a very good two- to three-day workshop or conference," she told Education World. When they returned to school, each would be responsible for producing a mini in-service session, in which they share the ideas they learned and offer tips for implementing those ideas.

"With a certified staff of 36, the money would be spent quickly," said Stokes, who is principal at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. But, she added, it would be money well spent. "Nothing is more invigorating for a teacher than to be among fellow educators and be able to expand your repertoire of ideas and strategies."


Dr. Les Potter would probably let a committee made up of staff and parents decide how best to spend his $25,000 windfall. That's how Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida, has handled past windfalls from the state -- which were handed out based on the school's test results. In those cases, the committee paid out staff bonuses and set aside the rest to use as mini grants, which staff members could apply for, Potter explained.

"Teachers have been asking about white boards and more software, so those things would be considered," said Potter. "That $25,000 sounds like a lot of money, but it would not do much to upgrade technology."

The No Child Left Behind Act has created another huge gap that this money might help fill. "We have 25 teacher assistants who will need additional education to keep their jobs," Potter explained. "If I could, I would pay for the classes those overworked and definitely underpaid professionals will need to take."

If pressed to make a solo decision about the windfall's disbursement, however, Potter would probably use it to fund before-school, after-school, and summer tutoring programs. "At our school many students need extra help," Potter said. "I hate to ask already overworked teachers to do even more, but at least I would be able to compensate them for their efforts." Such spending would benefit staff and students, Potter added.


Principal Laura Guggino, of Rhame Avenue Elementary School in East Rockaway, New York, would devote any windfall she might receive to strengthening literacy instruction at her school. "Literacy is the foundation of all learning," Guggino told Education World. A strong program is in place at RAES, but Guggino would devote more resources to it "to ensure that our students become life-long readers and achieve success in life."

Since resources have been heaped on early literacy at RAES, Guggino would devote $16,000 of her $25,000 budget line to mirror those offerings for grades 3 to 6. That money would be used to provide a wonderful program with good literature and --which is very important -- $2,000 more would provide additional staff development to support the program.

"On top of that, I would like to contract a writer/poet in residence ($1,500 a week for 10 weeks, for a total of $6,000) to provide students with other avenues for creativity," added Guggino. "I would use the remaining money ($1,000) to plan a 'parent university,' which would educate parents about the power of reading and provide each attendee with a good piece of literature to share with his or her children."

And that leaves a balance of ... $0.

"$25,000 sounds like a lot of money," Guggino concluded, "but when you begin brainstorming the possibilities, it sure gets spent fast!"


Dear Santa Claus...
A few years ago, Education World 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!