Amplifying the Voices of Principals in Washington, D.C.

Guest post by Alan Tenreiro

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with John King, the acting U.S. secretary of education, and other educational and political leaders to discuss how best to amplify the voices of educators—principals, in particular—in public policy discussions.

This is no small challenge. Countless think tanks, policy centers, and other special interest groups—most far more savvy and better funded than educators—compete for a place at the policy table. Yet, as NASSP regularly reminds us, there is no substitute for hearing from actual voices from the field. We principals work in the nexus of policy, practice, and the public will. We are, therefore, not just the key implementers of schools reform, but its ambassadors and thought leaders. To their credit, King and his team at the U.S. Department of Education realize that principal leadership is essential to sustainable change in policy and practice, and they want to hear how federal policy impacts local implementation.

PrincipalsAtEdNot surprisingly then, support for principal development was a main topic of our discussion. Successful school leaders need a wide array of skills and traits, especially around sustaining advanced coursework for college and career ready standards, as well as advancing competency-based learning, blended learning, and the rich personalized pathways that empower students’ voices and choices in their own learning.

The conversation was well-timed with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which allows states to set aside a portion of Title I funds specifically for principal development. NASSP worked hard to get this provision included in ESSA, and we will all need to be active to make sure states take full advantage of it.

We discussed calling for education and educational policy to be a standard part of the State of the Union address. We talked about the president’s initiatives around coding, offering hands-on math and computer science, recruiting great teachers, and making college affordable. We discussed creating the great schools our communities want—no, that they demand—by providing more principal autonomy, allowing for innovation, and supporting teachers. (I suggested that teacher preparation programs be measured based on how well a teacher is doing on the job after one, two, or three years.)

Speaking of support, as I have said many, many times, there is a mental health crisis in our schools. The principals around the table shared deeply powerful stories about this. We need greater support for our students. We need professionals, counselors, social workers, and nurses to help children get the services they need to succeed in life.

Principals look forward to continued discussions with the Department of Education around these issues and more. We will continue our work—leading schools, leading our communities, and helping all of our students succeed. But, especially during the next year while the new ESSA is implemented, we must embrace our role in advocating for our schools as well.

Alan Tenreiro is principal of Cumberland High School in Cumberland, RI, and the 2016 NASSP National Principal of the Year.

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