Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to Some Education Related Nonsense

It's time to get back to a little education related nonsense. One of the factors in my decision to leave as a principal involved the incredible amount of paperwork I had to push around and fill out.

When I left the classroom to become an assistant principal, I had this dream that I would spend the vast majority of my day moving in and out of classrooms. I wanted to be a true Educational Leader in my building. I had plenty of knowledge and I'd had some of the best professional development and training one could ever get.

I'd also had several outstanding examples of leadership in the likes of Brother David Migliorino, principal of Notre Dame Regional High School, Mr. Dennis Parham, principal of Jackson Junior High and Mr. Cory Crosnoe, current principal of Jackson Junior High. All three had different styles and I envisioned myself as being able to take the very best of each of them, add it to my own style and making myself "Super Principal/Educational Leader".

The realty was, I spent that first year breaking up fights, dealing with emerging gangs, working with crazy parents and monitoring every sort of athletic and extra-curricular event. Precious little of my time was actually spent in the classrooms. With each fight I had to break up or each crazy parent I had to deal with came a pile of paperwork. Each incident had to be recorded on paper and in the computer. Parents wanted to come and talk about why their child was getting a detention or suspension or whatever. Each meeting required documentation. I soon learned that when I wasn't breaking up an argument or dealing with a student in crisis, I was filling out all the paperwork necessary to document it.

At the time, I was younger and more ambitious and kept hoping and thinking that once I got the discipline business settled, I would have more time for the classroom visits. I was hired, after all, because I had a ton of experience with the MAP test. I'd done everything from content/bias review, item analysis, item writing, reading selection, setting scoring guides, scoring the test. I'd worked on every imaginable piece of the MAP Communication Arts test. I had even spent three weeks that summer in Sacramento, California working with a few others from the state and CTB McGraw/Hill on developing future tests. I knew how that test worked inside and out and I knew how to defeat it!

All I needed was time. Time with the Communication Arts teachers and time in the classrooms. That time was never there.

I gave some inservices to the Comm Arts staff and I encouraged them to change their instruction. As in most schools, some tried it and liked the suggestions, others tried it and didn't like it and others simply hoped I would go away. That was to be expected, though. Change is hard and change in a school system is like rolling a 20 ton boulder up a moss-covered hill. It's hard work and you tend to slide back almost more than you progress forward.

As my first year turned into my second and third and fourth, I found that the discipline and other paperwork stayed the same and it became compounded by reports for the central office, reports for the board of education, reports for the state and reports for the staff. In my last year and a half or so, I felt like I sat in my office for 8-10 hours per day churning out paperwork.

One example of the ridiculous paperwork: We were a non-Title 1 school. As such, the sanctions of NCLB really didn't affect us. But, because we were an underperforming school, "we" (read "I") was responsible for writing a Non-Title 1 School Improvement Plan. It was required by the NCLB and the state. When I and another principal went to a meeting to find out how to write it, we were told that no one really knew how to write one because there was no form and really no guidelines. We knew we had to examine our scores, disaggregate our data and develop some plan to improve but we had no idea how to format it or what, exactly, "they" were looking for.

As it turns out, "they" were a nonentity. I worked hard to put together a plan that I thought would benefit my school and I held meetings with department chairs, parents, students and community members. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I had data analysis, explanations, suggestions for improvements, goals, strategies, action steps, measurable outcomes.... I had it all. Finally, I submitted my plan to the board office. It was reviewed, rubber-stamped and passed on up the chain. I felt good! I had a plan and I could defend it if needed.

At a meeting with some state department folks, someone asked about those Non-Title 1 School Improvement Plans and who was reading them at the state level and how would we know if they were acceptable or not. The state person stumbled around and finally admitted that, since they were not tied to federal dollars, no one was looking at them or monitoring them. Only the Title 1 plans were being reviewed and monitored.

It was at that moment that I realized I was merely a mouse on a treadmill. I was running as hard and as fast as I could and I was doing the best I could and I was going nowhere!

Each year, I had to crank one of those out. And, each year, in spite of it being an exercise in futility, I did my best. To my knowledge, the only people who looked at them were my superiors at the central office. No one held me accountable for the plan and no one looked at it after the board approved it. I doubt that the board members looked at it.

This post is getting long, but I think you get a small glimpse of the amount of paperwork I found myself under. Each year, something new was added: Principal's Action Plan, Building Improvement Plan, District Improvement Plan, discipline reports by grade, gender, ethnicity, event, reports to the school board on various activities and special classes in the building, reports to the central office on emergency procedure drills, event reports if we had an emergency, police reports, witness statements, truancy reports, suspension letters, and MAP Test Plans, MAP Data Analysis reports by grade, subject tested, sub-group, etc.

The paperwork caused paralysis in the running of the school and, because of that, I became caught in a vicious cycle of trying to juggle the paperwork with the other demands of the job. More on that, later.

I intended for this to be a short post but it's turned out to be rather lengthy. If you stayed with me, I thank you. I'll be posting more about the trials and tribulations of trying to be an Educationl Leader. Stay tuned!


  1. Ah, paperwork. That was what drove me out of my short four years of public school teaching (or it was the last straw as I had already decided that I was not school teacher material). I see two problems here, although they probably go hand-in-hand. The discipline/parent paperwork is the CYA junk one has to do in anticipation of possible lawsuits. The rest is the result of inevitable bureaucratic bloat. Solving these problems would require major restructuring of law, government, and the educational system.

  2. A wise man once said, "A poor carpenter blames his tools".


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