Pressure running a school


Principal: The head administrator is expected to manage a large business and be a data processor, in addition to being an instructional leader.

March 17, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

PITY THE poor principal.

Even in comfortable suburban schools, the head administrator is under more pressure than ever to make "adequate yearly progress" in test scores, while simultaneously running a large business, serving two meals a day, supervising the bus stop, pampering the football coach and keeping toilet paper in the lavatories.

These are only a few of the myriad responsibilities of the principal. Once respected by teachers and parents, feared by student miscreants and left alone by the central office, today's principals are expected to be strong business managers, data processors and instructional leaders rolled into one.

It's as though the baseball manager also had to sell tickets and man the parking lots.

"Principals are under terrific pressure," says Vincent L. Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, "especially with the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act."

And, Ferrandino points out, principals don't have the financial incentive to stick with their demanding work, which is why many are bailing out. Their salaries haven't kept pace with those of classroom teachers, and since they work year-round (even on snow days), they earn less on a daily basis than many of their senior teachers.

In Baltimore City, the job is even more stressful and, these days, less involved with instruction. On a recent Monday, I followed Leslie Barnett Davis, principal of Morrell Park Elementary-Middle School, through most of a hectic day. Walky-talky in hand, cell phone at the waist, Davis spent 2 1/2 hours on cafeteria duty, another hour patrolling the hallways.

She does much of her work at home. That includes the many reports she must submit to North Avenue headquarters and the letters of recommendation she writes for teachers looking for work where they won't be threatened by layoffs and pay cuts.

"You've got to love this job to keep doing it under the circumstances," says Davis.

One set of Maryland principals is loving the job under different circumstances. Two years ago, Talbot County separated the managerial and instructional duties of all but one of its principals, hiring managers to do noninstructional work and freeing principals to be instructional leaders.

"I take care of all the support services, do the budgeting, hire the substitutes, keep on top of a roofing project, make sure the class pictures are taken on time, worry about the cafeteria," says Glenda Soccorso, manager of Easton-Moton Elementary School in Easton. "The only thing [Principal] Kelly [Griffith] has to worry about is what goes on in the classroom."

Soccorso, who had been a school secretary since 1990 but in a previous life had managed a savings and loan in California, oversees a budget of about $57,000, exclusive of salaries and other expenses that are centrally budgeted. But high school budgets can easily exceed $1 million, and principals learn little in education school about managing such large and complex organizations.

"For me, having Glenda as manager has been the greatest thing since sliced bread," says Griffith. "If you'd asked me three years ago how much time I spent on noninstructional things, I would have estimated 40 percent. Now I realize it was more like 70 percent. Now I can be a true instructional leader."

Talbot Superintendent Karen Salmon says the school manager experiment is improving instruction.

"Our principals have done 3,000 classroom observations since the beginning of the school year," says Salmon. "For a small system like Talbot, that's a lot."

It might be Talbot's smallness that makes such an experiment workable. The Eastern Shore system has only nine schools, one so small that it doesn't need a separate manager.

Would such an arrangement work in a large, complex system like Baltimore? It's worth thinking about.

Free Leslie Davis.

A solution to misbehavior, another to a budget crunch

Noted in the news:

ORAN, Mo. - A teacher resigned last month after duct-taping a misbehaving seventh-grader to his desk and covering his mouth with tape, the school superintendent said Wednesday.

NEWBURY, Ohio - Principals, teachers and other school employees in this small Ohio district have agreed to a pay freeze to help their financially struggling system stay afloat.

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