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Greetings to the New High School Principal – Here’s Your First Big Headache
When you read an article or book published for school administrators, you can usually tell after the first paragraph whether the person writing is a writer on educational leadership or someone who has actually served as a principal. Writers usually write wonderful things about how the principal is “the educational leader of the building” and other platitudes that are nearly impossible to put on the schedule and actually accomplish in a focused way in a normal school day. This writer introduces you to what will be your first headache of every year that you’re boss – and you can put it on the calendar, and lots of focused time will be spent dealing with it. The “Ivory Tower” folks didn’t mention this one at the graduate school, we assure you. Issues like the one discussed in this article could be the reason they chose the Ivory Tower in the first place and therefore have plenty of time to write!
So are you ready? Here is your first big headache, and it will show up on the first or second day of the new school year. You’ve just returned to your desk after being “everywhere” greeting kids, checking buses, and talking with teachers and staff. It’s around 10 a.m. and you sit down to catch your breath and finish the cold coffee you bought at the convenience store this morning at 6 a.m. on a hot day.
The secretary comes in and asks you if you want the person who makes announcements in the morning – you should be making announcements about positive things and not just sports – to announce that the registration requests are on the counter of the office for students who want a parking pass allowing them to drive to school and park in the grounds.
It seems quite innocuous, doesn’t it? Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! The announcement is made, and as of Friday’s deadline for applications, you have 203 applications. By the way, there are 35 student parking spaces. Some of the applications are incomplete as they ask for a copy of his license, registration and insurance. The secretary sifts through all of this and gives you the 186 completed applications.
OK, so far so good. Here comes the question: who can park in the 35 spaces? Have you even thought of criteria? Will it be only for the elderly? You wisely ask the secretary how things have gone in the past with the previous principal. She replies that she has no idea since old Mr. Brown handled it himself – she just typed up the final list. Ok, you’re a pretty bright person, so you start with the logical thought that older people have the first choice, and that narrows the pile down to 117 applications. You then feel that since academics are of paramount importance, the threshold for consideration for licensure will be that each student must have a GPA of 3.2 or better. You’re at about 77 applications. Now what? Well, maybe you should look at each student’s level of contribution to the school as a whole. For example, their service to the school as part of a group, team, or other student leadership activity could be considered. All good ideas so far and logically defensible. You now have approximately 53 applications. So far, this analysis à la Captain Queeg has cost you a lot of time and visibility. You realize you have a school to run, so you simply choose names from the hat to complete the process (also a defensible approach – a LOTTERY!) and present the final list to the secretary to type and post on the wall outside the main office. Well. It wasn’t so bad, do you think, what’s the next thing I have to make decisions about? You go home that night feeling like you’ve accomplished something.
The next morning, about fifteen extremely angry parents are waiting for you at the office reception. Several angry parents called, two school board members called, and the superintendent also called – the topic? Student parking issues.
Your day is all about angry parents whose child didn’t get a parking permit. All leave with the promise that “You haven’t heard of me”…and, “I’m calling the superintendent and/or board members, etc.” The superintendent asks you why all this fuss? You ask, “What is this?” “I just made logical decisions about who would get parking permits in the car park taking into account that we only have 35 spaces available.” You go on to describe your ironclad logic in arriving at this decision, and the superintendent thanks you and says he will support you but you have to make an exception because the son of council member Mrs Cavendish who is going to the technical school and has a job every day as a vet assistant has to drive a good distance etc. Funny Guy/Gal this superintendent – he/she ends with the comment: “Are we still having fun?” Other parents claim their children have jobs, many of which are crucial to the family’s financial problems – and these children could not go out for a team if they wanted to due to financial problems. The respectful parents of some of your Indian and Pakistani students then come and tell you that their children, who are all excellent students and never miss a day of school, have to work every day in the family business, and they would like respectfully request a parking space for their child. Two parents are in tears as they tell the sad story of illness in the family forcing their child to drive every day for a legitimate purpose. The other school board members call asking for a favor, one of whom is painfully candid at all times and reminds you that they can sway the votes and will remember that in the spring when the issue of your raise comes up. .
Now what? You cannot remove the published list. Your heart goes out to some of these people, and you even pragmatically think about future raises for a moment or two. Two more days are spent going through all the concerns from parents, students who want to see you, calls from your boss and board members, and unsolicited suggestions from various staff people. Another idea that comes to mind that quickly goes by is that maybe students who are in their sports season could keep their space until the end of their season and then someone else could get space – but then you notice that very few students are involved in just one thing. You try to call other experienced managers in the area – all of whom have a suggestion or two, but all of whom come from diverse installations, with varying levels of political capital depending on how long they’ve been on the job. You take good notes, but most of the things they say won’t help you today. In the evening, your wife or your husband says to you: “Honey, you wanted this job…”
You decide the list holds, and the anger continues unabated for a week or two. You will see many of these people again. Despite threats of legal action, the school’s attorney assures you that anyone can sue anyone else for anything, but the plaintiff in these actions would have no real cause of harm. action and his case would be dismissed – it would just take up a lot of your time. As a student of “shared governance” – which Machiavelli would have laughed at – you assemble a committee made up of several teachers, two students, a coach and a parent or two and ask them to think about the selection criteria for The next year.
Now it’s about two weeks into the school year and you haven’t had a chance to “get some fresh air”. Things seem to be on the way to being resolved when the secretary reminds you of an irrefutable law of nature: people get older every day. This means that as the school year passes, every day students celebrate their birthdays and grow older. Therefore, at the end of the year, the number of licensed drivers will be significantly higher than at the beginning of the year. She also reminds you that you were young once too and as a high school student you probably didn’t want to be seen by your friends riding a bus to and from school either. It would be as embarrassing as having to bring a lunch bag to school. What do you plan to say to parents who want to know why their child is not allowed to drive to school now that he has his license in November?
Now you might be thinking of that holiday commercial where they ask the question… Want to get away? You might also look in the mirror and wonder why you gave up your teaching job and those long summer vacations. Relax, things will get better, and that’s only around September 20th. There is still a lot of school left. That was your first headache. You will learn from this. We’ll stop now and give you some time to process. Many of your headaches this year will come unexpectedly. At least you know this one happens – every year around the same time. Are we still having fun?
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