Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Do We Need School Administrators?

Whenever I meet up with old high school friends the first thing they remind me of is that I ended up as a school administrator. They seem to conclude from my regular visits to the principal’s office in those years, that I was not the ideal student nor the best behaved — despite what people may think. And still, I ended up becoming a principal and now a superintendent. (Maybe they just think I got what I deserved!)

Truth be told, I love doing the job of a school administrator. After being in the classroom as a teacher for 25 years, moving into a leadership role was logical and the next step in a career in which I wanted to focus on helping schools change.

Unfortunately, after 3 long years of continuing budget meetings due to the “great recession,” I am barraged by so many people that feel our schools are “top heavy” or “need to get rid of the administrators to fill the budget gap”. This was a constant plea at the recent facilities forum.

So, let’s start with some facts and information about school administrators.

New York State Education Law requires each school building have a principal, an individual in a managerial role to coordinate, supervise, and be accountable for the educational environment. each with an assigned building principal.

As many parents of adolescent children can attest to, high school and middle school can be busy and trying times in students’ lives. They have a lot on their minds at any given moment: the pressures of academic and extracurricular concerns, including grades and scheduling; athletics, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, fighting and bullying, the college process; jobs and volunteer and internship opportunities — and these are just the things that the adults know about. This means all of these issues are on the minds — and the desks — of school administrators.

The role of schools in meeting the social and emotional needs of students has grown immensely over the years. This is a fact. We gladly do everything we can to support students, but the community should understand that we need the right people in the right positions to do this work. I believe we have them at BC.

Still, the budget cuts last year have required reducing staffing in all areas, including administration. We eliminated one Middle School House leader last year, and are proposing to eliminate the remaining House Leader for next year. That will leave a student to administrator ratio at the Middle School of 594 to 1.

Principals move quickly from tasks such as helping a student with a problem; coordinating a program or an activity in a building; assisting a teacher or staff member with a challenging issue; and speaking with a parent about something that their student is struggling with. At the Middle School next year, they’ll be moving even quicker.

So, I don’t believe we’re “top heavy,” and neither, I suspect, do the the students and staff who rely on administrative assistance daily to deal with the myriad issues I listed above.

So, one might take issue with the comment at the recent forum that employees who do not have “direct student contact,” such as “administrators,” be targeted for elimination to cope with our budget challenges. I like to think of the district, and each of its schools, as teams. Principals lead a team of teachers, office staff, custodians and others to ensure student safety, well-being and academic excellence.

As we grapple with year three of this continuing fiscal crisis, let’s remember that schools did not create this recession. Our community cares deeply about its schools. Everyone has a direct role in providing students with a quality education and a sense of belonging.

Building leaders are vital to this effort every day.