Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Flashback 1988: Harvard program helps principals remain sharp


     Did you have a nice Christmas? We did, in a secular fashion, listening to rock-and-roll Christmas songs and drinking homemade hot chocolate. 
     Honestly, even though I said atop Sunday's chestnut about school choice that I would post this, I thought of backing out, and going with all the reaction I got to saying that Randy Newman is the greatest living American songwriter. Much unexpected stuff, like the groundswell for Carole King. 
     But re-reading this got me thinking of a group I would otherwise never think about — principals — and I wanted to post it, for that reason. For all the ink spilled on the Chicago Public Schools, I can't recall reading an article on principals, collectively. That might be worth doing again. 

     CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Principals can make or break schools.
     They can pave the way for teachers to do their best or they can create an obstacle course.
     They can generate parent and community support or slam the door.
     They can foster innovation or reinforce routine.
     Yet they receive scant guidance or support.
     The mayor's education summit wants to change that with rigorous training "initially and on an ongoing basis in areas such as administration, budget management, effective leadership, staff development, human relations and effective communication."
     Some school reformers are eyeing the Principals' Center at Harvard University as a model.
     "Many people do not understand the complexity and difficulty of a principal's job, or give credit to the amount of thought and energy principals put into making a good school," said Sarah Levine, the center's associate director.
     The center was opened in 1981 to give principals a place to learn about school management, reflect on what they do, exchange ideas and receive encouragement and support.
     Today the center coordinates a network of more than 100 similar operations in 36 states.
     "One of the main things it does is put you in touch with the latest trends and research," said Ellen Cunniff, a principal in Cambridge, Mass.
     Lewis Roderick, a principal in State College, Pa., said the center "works well because it is voluntary and principals are involved in the design of programs. It is difficult to force people to do additional training, because the commitment is not there."
     Although participation is voluntary, the center has no problem attracting applicants. Last year, 700 principals applied for 117 places in the summer institute.
     In Illinois, the Legislature mandated a limited amount of staff development for administrators as part of its 1985 education reform package. Principals are required to attend 15 hours of training offered through the Illinois Board of Education, mainly in teacher evaluation, every two years.
     Many principals contend the training does not meet their needs and is a waste of time. Some suburban school board members agree and are trying to remove it from state mandates.
     "Most principals hate it," said the principal of one inner-city school in Chicago. Each principal faces a unique set of circumstances, he said, and any training should be aimed at specific problems.
     "Here, our written scores are low, our attendance is low, a lot of children do not do homework, we have a lot of child abuse, child neglect. Those are the areas where we need help," he said. "The principal training doesn't revitalize principals. It just gives them more stuff to do."
     Other principals find the sessions helpful even though they often cover old ground.
     "It brings some things back to the surface," said Roberta A. Chapman, principal of Ravenswood Elementary School, 4332 N. Paulina. "There is sharing with other principals, which is very helpful because we are so isolated."
     However helpful training may be, sessions scheduled during the school year exacerbate what is perhaps a principal's greatest problem: lack of time.
     "One of the biggest problems principals have is to get into the classroom as often as they would like to," said Mary A. Ransford, principal of the Newberry Mathematics and Science Academy, 700 W. Willow. "It is very difficult to find time in the day."
             —Originally published in the Sun-Times May 8, 1988

10 comments:

  1. Any forum where professionals who share common goals can gathers beneficial. You frequently get more benefit from interacting with others than you get from the program

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  2. Considering that Harvard has become the national center for hatred of Jews, I'd rather see the entire place burn to the ground!

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    1. I think that's overstating the case. If we torched every campus that coddled anti-Semites, we'd have very few institutions of higher learning left.

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    2. normally I dont agree with clark st.
      he is not threatening or encouraging
      I consider myself an ally of the jewish people
      encouraging the destruction of Israel should be opposed

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    3. A gentile who is an ally of the Jewish people...and a Jewish person who does not support the policies of Israel. Do we cancel each other out?

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    4. I dont think so. I am an ally of all jewish people. no judgement.

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  3. Published 33 years ago?????? How disheartening that in all this time we haven’t figured out a new education model that more effectively unleashes the potential of all participants, including principals. We humans, except for a rare few, seem unable to imagine and implement new ways of thinking to go along with new ways of doing to produce new and better results. New practices enacted with the same “old” mindsets are like putting lipstick on a pig! Adam Grant’s book, Hidden Potential, contains meaningful information about Finland's educational system, which is ranked #1 in the world, based on their outcomes. Their primary focus in kindergarten is to teach children that “learning is fun.”(p.141) And anyone who gets behind in school is provided a free tutor rather than being held back!

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  4. Finland sounds very nice. They have a population of five and a half million people which is what twice as big as Chicago and a per capita GDP of 54,000 something dollars per capita!

    And they don't have our demographics. It's a pretty homogeneous populous so it's easier to get everybody to agree on something

    I mentioned last week that two of my sons attended Waldorf School. They also instill a love of learning and they certainly do make it fun, but the tuition there is $10,000 a year

    I'd like to think that one of the ideas that we've come up for with for public education over the last 30 years has been successful. I can't quite put my finger on it though. Something has to be done about the wealth gap. It causes a disparity in school funding. So some districts in the Chicago area outside of Chicago. The suburbs, spend a lot more money to educate each kid. Then we're able to raise and use at CPS. This is a very difficult problem to solve.

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    1. Thanks for your insights. I'm wondering if we looked at our demographics as a positive factor in being rich with a broader range of diverse ideas that actually might enable us to end up with more innovative and creative solutions vs. being less able to reach universal agreement. Maybe we need to figure out how diversity of ideas is a good thing vs. a problem to overcome.

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  5. I think the essence of the problem is that most parents want their kids to go to a "good" school, which very quickly invites an overt racial calculus with caring white, Black and brown parents avoiding schools and neighborhoods with a majority Black population. Which leads to schools in minority neighborhoods filling up with problem children who require greater attention, higher expenses and more dedicated teachers and receive less of each. A self fulfilling prophecy for sure. Fixable? Well, you can pretend to fix the problems like Vallas and Chico did years ago, but taxpayers of every stripe have historically refused to pay more for the education of other peoples' children than for their own kids.

    john

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