Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A School Principal is Your Pal

When you walk into your child's school what sets the tone for the atmosphere?  In my experience as a parent and covering education stories, if you have a principal who is a dynamic instructional leader, good things are happening and great teachers are right there with them.

I have been profiling public school principals for The Principal Story on UNC-TV.  These are stories of leaders who are transforming their schools into high achieving hubs of learning against all the odds.  Many of these schools were nowhere near meeting state or federal achievement expectations, but principal leadership seemed to be the key that turned things around.

I can not help but smile...

when I think of the story of Leicha San Miguel, a veteran educator from Morganton, NC.  San Miguel took a failing Title One school and worked strategically to create a positive culture at the mostly Latino populated elementary school.  San Miguel explained how the school's location in the middle of a housing project made it a most fragile situation.

Many of the students come to school with language barriers.  Even so, San Miguel worked with teachers to ensure that each child could meet expectations and pass the tests.  Looking at the tests scores you can see after her leadership the school out scored others in the district, which were situated in higher income areas.  How did she do it?  She has vision and contagious enthusiasm.

My photographer Mark shot video as a 2nd grade girl read a letter from President Obama to her class.  In the letter the President thanked them for sending him a letter to congratulate his presidency.  I was told that same girl came to the school in Kindergarten speaking English only as a second language.

I remember during our interview Principal San Miguel became teary eyed when she spoke of the obstacles the children have to overcome just to be prepared to learn.  The poverty, the hunger, the domestic situations, all part of a patchwork she and her staff work to mend day in and day out.

When we were there a crying mother was in the school office, another distraught parent dropped off her child late, and yet another child had told her principal, "Mommy has been crying today, there is no food.  We found an apple, but no food for Mommy."

We talk a lot about improving public education but please don't forget to thank your school leaders and the teachers.  They are working hard and often times with minimal resources, fragmented time, and yes, hungry children.

The stakes are high and seeing the front lines only makes you realize how important and precious our educational leaders are in the making of the future fabric of America.

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