Our Principals Occupy Hot Seat of Education

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

Our Principals Occupy Hot Seat of Education


Byline: J. Peter Lueck

In a few short weeks, we will celebrate the 83rd American Education Week, recognizing the educators and school staff who keep our children safe and healthy as well as help them achieve.

We know that successful schools require a team effort and that school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher aides and other support professionals positively impact our school communities.

But for today, I would like to focus on our school principals who hold the key to our school improvement efforts.

Unless you somehow missed going to school, somewhere in the back of your mind is the perception of the school principal. To those who visited the office more than others, the memory may be a little stronger. But regardless of one's personal contact with the person in charge, most probably still think of the principal as an authority figure who runs the school like the captain of a ship.

He - and most of them were men until recent years - makes the rules, maintains order and is the ultimate judge in all matters of disagreement. Everyone - staff, students and parents - knows nothing is final without his or her say so.

Perceptions aside, it's been a long time since school principals could run a school like their personal kingdom, if it was ever possible. Strong state and federal laws and regulations, union contracts and changing societal expectations have been altering the role of the principal for some time.

Indeed, there is no more challenging role in education today and probably very few jobs that could be considered tougher in any field.

So much is expected of a principal, while the total control we perceive he or she exercises no longer exists.

The principal's chair became a hot seat in the latter half of the 20th century as American education experienced numerous attempts at restructuring and increased public concern about its quality. Although the country's complex educational system places responsibility at the state level, with local control maintained by boards of education and their superintendents, the school principal has been at the epicenter of much of the reform efforts.

In fact, for almost two decades now, educational research has suggested the best hope for the improvement of schools can be found in the principal's office.

As a result, principals were called upon to lead the way in the effective schools movement of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as site- based reform efforts of the 1990s. …

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