Principal Expert of the Week

Schools Could Learn a Thing or Two From Driver Education

Guest post by Brian M. Stack

I have spent more than a decade as the principal of a high school that has gained national recognition as an early adopter of a competency-based learning model. As one who has been a part of this transition and implementation since its beginning, I am always happy to offer practical advice to fellow principals on the topic. The most popular question I am asked is about how to introduce the idea of competency-based learning to parents and other stakeholders who do not work in the education field. To date, I have found no better way to do this than to relate it to a very common assessment experience that most adults have in common: obtaining a driver’s license.  (more…)

The Poor Man’s Guide to Family Engagement in Our Schools

Guest post by Patrick Arguelles

Doing more with less

Virtually every school district in the nation is dealing with budget reductions. For most school leaders, there is little unjustified spending to cut, no easy targets, no low-hanging fruit. At the Early College Academy and Career Enrichment Center in Albuquerque, NM, we have examined our vision and mission and aligned budget expenditures to them. Challenged with sustaining the core function of our school—college and career readiness—yet also making budget reductions that could affect the educational experience necessary for student success, we stepped outside the box to scrutinize our options. Initial conversations were filled with lots of “less”—less materials and supplies, less technology, less PD, less electives, even less pay. What could we have more of that would not cost us any money? (more…)

Everyone Has a Story

Guest post by Brandon Mowinkel

The role of a principal is complex, tiring, and stressful, to say the least. Balancing the needs of your staff, students, school, and community can wear on you, especially as the school year winds down. Tensions seem to run high as patience wanes.

It is vital for principals to keep the focus where it needs to be—on the students. The demands of the job can pull us in various directions and our need to keep students at the forefront of what we do becomes muddled in the minutia of school life. Every principal must find a way to remember his “why” and continuously keep the focus on students and their learning. In my practice, I use three constant reminders to keep me focused on what matters most. (more…)

AVID: A Transformative Pathway for School Improvement

Guest post by Nick Nelson

During the 2015–16 school year, The Dalles High School in Oregon was awarded a state grant for AVID training. We didn’t know much about AVID at the time, just that it was a philosophy centered on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, and that its goal was to close the achievement gap.

The grant allowed a team of five teaching staff, me, and one additional administrator to attend the initial summer AVID-training session. After that session, our team began to grasp more concretely the significance of what we were involved in and the potential impact AVID could have on our instructional practice with targeted students and schoolwide. What we didn’t know was how instrumental AVID would be in creating a powerful cultural transformation for our high school. (more…)

A Professional Learning Community That Achieves Results

Guest post by Jack Baldermann

At Westmont High School (WHS)—a Title 1 school just outside Chicago, IL—our team has sustained tremendous growth and significant gains in student achievement. WHS continues to rank in the top 1 percent in Illinois and in the nation for its graduation rate. Over the past five years, 98.5 percent of our students have graduated on time, up from a 10-year average of 90 percent. For five years straight, 100 percent of Latino and African-American students at WHS have completed all graduation requirements on time. In addition, WHS can also claim one of the most improved and top performing AP programs in Illinois and in the nation.

What has caused our substantial growth and gains in student achievement? (more…)

Giving Students a Voice in School Improvement

Guest post by Kasey Teske

In secondary schools, the greatest untapped resource is our students. Most of our students care deeply about school and have numerous ideas about how to improve their campus community. But how often do we, as principals, involve students in our school improvement efforts? Do the students in our school even know our improvement priorities? Are they allowed to give input and help create our school improvement plans? I submit that the more principals give students a voice in their school, the more improvement will move in the right direction. (more…)

Navigating School Transitions

Guest post by Gordon Klasna

Summer is near and, as principal, I find myself already thinking about student transitions from one year to the next. For kids today, traditional school transitions seem to be growing even more difficult as children are living in an era of constant interruptions and limited attention span.

Since Eileen Johnson Middle School (EJMS) is an independent elementary district, we do not have a high school in our district, so instead we partner with our neighboring high schools to help ensure that our students are prepared academically when they cross their thresholds. While we all follow the same state academic standards, we don’t measure the soft skills that students need which are essential to making smooth transitions from one school to the next.

What are the skills that students need to navigate these transitions? (more…)

So Many Questions, So Little Time: Exploring Online PD

Guest post by Tracy Ragland

One of my goals as principal of Newcastle High School (NHS) in Wyoming is to provide my staff with ongoing, quality professional development. Currently, we follow a traditional, face-to-face PD model, where our administrative team shares best practices with our entire teaching staff during in-service time. Though this approach provides some benefits, our team has struggled to develop programming that addresses all of the different needs of our staff, especially since NHS offers a wide variety of electives ranging from multimedia to welding, in addition to our core classes. How can we as school leaders provide more effective professional development that meets all of the different needs of our staff? (more…)

Getting the Most Out of Block Scheduling

Guest post by Sedric G. Clark

As a young English I and Algebra I teacher, I always searched for best practices that would help my students succeed. One of the practices I encountered and embraced early in my career was 4×4 block scheduling. In fact, I completed my master’s degree paper on the topic and later chaired a committee for my district that recommended the implementation of 4×4 scheduling in all high schools.

That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have served as assistant principal and principal in five different schools in four different school districts—in two different states. I am now in my first year as superintendent, and hopefully, my last year as a doctoral student. When my doctoral adviser asked me to choose a topic for my dissertation, I once again turned to block scheduling. I wanted to see if block scheduling still offered the benefits that I thought it did at the beginning of my career. (more…)

Are Your Students Life Ready?

Guest post by Akil E. Ross

As principal of Chapin High School (CHS) in South Carolina, I’m always trying to promote ways to make our students college and career ready. After all, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calls for our students to meet higher academic standards and for us to help them find success beyond high school. But I often find myself wondering: Does college and career ready mean life ready? Regardless of which path our students take, just possessing the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and a career is only one part of the equation to becoming a productive and happy human being. In addition to making our students college and career ready, my goal is to make 100 percent of our students ready for life.

What does it mean to be life ready, and how can schools prepare students? (more…)