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Apodaca: Pressure is on principals like never before

September 13, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Here in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District it's the Year of the Principal.

NMUSD has undergone a large rate of turnover in its principal ranks recently. As the new school year gets underway, eight campuses have new principals; six were hired from outside the district and two were transfers from within.

Normally, this wouldn't necessarily be something to get overly worked up about.

But these are not normal times. The educational landscape is changing fast: A huge reform movement in teaching methodology is underway. Schools are increasingly being held accountable for student progress, and educators are being scrutinized and evaluated as never before.

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All of which means that the recent choices for top leadership spots at several district campuses are more critical than ever.

To be sure, the job of a school principal has always been tough.

The position of principal emerged in the early 20th century as schools grew larger and more complex and the need arose for a manager to oversee administration. Early on, teachers did double duty — thus the title "principal teacher."

As time went on, the job of principal segued into a full-time position, but the duties remained largely operational — managing personnel, finances, supplies and scheduling, among other managerial tasks.

But today's principal is all that and much more. Increasingly, principals are called upon to delve more deeply into classroom instruction, setting the tone and direction, mentoring teachers and leading reform.

Gone are the autocrats who dictated policies and rules from on high while keeping a distance from classroom interaction. These days principals must be collaborative and inclusive, the school's public face, internal cheerleader and hands-on facilitator.

On any given day, principals juggle multiple balls. They oversee policy, communicate goals, administer discipline, handle teacher issues and concerns, organize calendars and schedules, speak to parents, give out awards, monitor classroom and playground activities, and attend district meetings before heading back to the ranch to put out fires that arose in his or her absence. I probably missed some other important stuff.

Some days pass, according to one principal's account, with barely a moment for a bathroom break, much less lunch.

Now tasked with implementing a huge and controversial educational reform movement, principals' feet will be put to the fire to a degree never before seen.

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