Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2 Digital Tools for Internal Accountability

I've referenced in a few other posts that we are full tilt on the Google bandwagon, and working with digital tools to manage our time, and simplify workflow.  I do not purport to be an expert 
(check out @heatherwarrell, or @BWhitlowEdTech @meme3rat  for 3 experts I goto), but we have had some success in the tools we're using.

Internal accountability is important to be able to grow and move forward.  One big hurdle to internal accountability is the belief that it won't be heard, or that there will be reprisal on someone for a critical suggestion.  What we did to answer this was make a Google Form that stays live, that does not collect user email addresses and is therefore anonymous, and committed to the staff that it would be checked regularly and addressed.  

It's a simple form that tells folks exactly it's intent.  I don't like complex forms because I believe most people won't do them.  This morning I had to do a US Census form for principals.  It took 45 minutes for feedback.  That's honestly too long, and a waste of time.  I think if people want to give feedback it should be easy, they get what they need of their chest and then administration can determine it's level of need.

Hurdle number two is that leadership has to be open to anonymous feedback.  I'll be honest with you, occasionally folks will put forth some nasty things via anonymous feedback (once a staff member called me some names that were not very nice) but 99% of the time it's constructive, good feedback that helps the organization grow.  Leadership must be tough enough to open the Pandora's box of anonymous feedback.  Remember if someone has something nasty to say, they're probably a sad person.  Pity them, move on to a problem that needs real solutions and soldier forward.

In many ways this is like a modern digital suggestion box but with one catch.  I think a big key is to show accountability and addressing the issues.  We do this by periodically (I have been trying for once a month depending on level of feedback received) cutting and pasting feedback and then i'll directly respond to it with what we are doing, or in some cases, correct what I think is a mistaken impression.  We do this via our Monday Report, a google doc we send out each Monday to communicate what's going on to our staff.  

Below are two examples:

Another simple tool we use to highlight things to the community is a Google Form that is aptly titled.  Teachers can find a link to it standing in our Monday Report, on our internal site, and in every single email I send.  Below is a snip of the form, and below that a snip of my email signature.  Easy place for folks to click when they have something on their mind they want pushed out to the community.

Hope these tools help your practice!

Snow Day: What do principals do?

Below is a video I made about Snow Day principal work.  It's meant to be funny.  

But what do we actually do?  Honestly, a snow day is a godsend in the middle of the year.  I don't want many of them, but one or two is great.  We use this time to work on all the things that are hard to work on when students are in session.  Budgets, evaluation plans, review data, work on state reporting, dig into applicants, etc.  One or two snow days end up being extremely productive for a busy principal.  

I usually do a "Snow Day Article" to our staff where I will pick an instructional topic and wax poetically about it.  Folks seem to appreciate this and the feedback is usually good.  It does give me a small opportunity to discuss instructional work, which is always useful.  I align whatever I put out to the staff to areas we are currently working on.  My purpose in this is to give commentary on instructional issues facing our school.  I think it's important, critically important that the staff knows where a principal stands in regards to various topics.  It is not intended as policy, nor do I expect my staff to accept commentary as the gospel truth.  Instead i'd rather it kick off discussion.  Doing this for several years now, at three schools and a district I've been engaged in some lively discussions over topics, and I think the staff is better for it.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Principals Office: Budget Transparency and Funding for Equity

All the money in our school outside of grants and donations is public money. To this end, it is incumbent upon school administrators to be transparent, good stewards of the public money entrusted to them. In our school we have about $14 million dollars directed to 2,170 or so students. This includes money for personnel, which accounts for about 87% of our budget. We have the flexibility at the building level through our Site Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) comprised at our school of the Principal, an Assistant Principal, six teachers, and four parents to determine at the building level what best fits our needs. For example we see a large need in our school for support of student mental health- so we added a social worker and a mental health counselor. Or, we need more security to monitor the hallways, so we hire additional security. Or, we need more teachers in a specific area, so we hire more teachers. The point being there is a large amount of flexibility at the building level to determine what best fits the needs of our students.

It is my belief we must be transparent and communicate well how we utilize these monies. I believe it is important to communicating the mission of the school by showing sound fiscal practice and accountability. Often you will see arguments made about “Per pupil spending”, and I would urge anyone interested to research how these figures are arrived at. Many times opponents of the effectiveness of public education will say something to the effect of “Well they spend 15,000 a kid and look at the results!?!” These are usually disingenuous arguments that have little merit and are created for shock value to justify the writer’s position.

My editorial here is that often, we don’t have enough capital to do what we want and more times than not we rob peter to pay paul. In the examples above, for every position we add or change, we’re prioritizing doing without something else. This is the reality of public education. if I had the ability to wave a magic wand for school funding these are the things I would look at first:

1. Funding that is equitable to the needs of the population served. Students who are at risk, high needs, and come from poverty require significantly more resources to educate than those who do not. This isn’t a value judgement, it’s the truth from my experience. This literally means some schools require more money than others. This is a hard pill to swallow. Some would say title funding accounts for this. However in my building, it’s $350ish thousand out of a 14 million dollar budget. Not as big an impact as one would think.

2. Fund based off of enrollment rather than attendance. We know high needs schools have lower attendance for a variety of factors. So why fund them on it? It creates an inherent inequity. Fund on enrollment first.

3. Society has made it CLEAR they expect the schoolhouse to solve all the ills of society. They expect us to teach, be mentors, solve poverty, provide health services, etc. So fund us to this end. Not just one or two mental health or social service counselors. No, fund us with full wraparound services, or do it for real in the community. What we have now is not enough, and if society EXPECTS us to cure these ills, then give us the tools to solve them.

4. Divert ALL fundng at the state level used for standardized testing, and paying massive Edu-corps for “accountability” back into the schools. NCLB gave us the high stakes rat race, and I’d contend it wasn’t worth a hill of beans. So leave it behind and put those tax dollars back into schools.

I realize many of these are “pie in the sky” but I have a good 15-20 years left in our profession, and I’ll continue to do my part to advocate for these changes. Wrapping up- transparency in the budget of your school is important, as is working to better funding solutions for our students.

Our budget presentation to our school community last year:

We’re working on one for this year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

7 days as a Principal: The highs, lows, and how awesome it is to lead a school #PrincipalLife

5,000 words on the #PrincipalLife

A common assignment that Administrative Preparation programs give their candidates is to shadow a principal for a day.  I have had the oppourtunity to have interns follow me around on occasion, and hopefully they learned a little about the job.  This blog post is to give an anecdotal account of a work week for a principal, as I think a day is at best, cursory.  I do not claim to be the busiest, most effective, or otherwise a great example, but I think my experience is pretty consistent with my peers.  Please hear me when I say that this piece is a little awkward to write, as I think it’s somewhat braggadocio, which is not my intent.  I think we need leaders that have a clear understanding of what they are taking on, not for money, or influence, but because this is the work they want to do, and think they can do well. Hopefully an aspiring administrator can read this and glean some information for what they are in for if they take on the principalship.

Every Sunday I carve out time in the morning after church to answer emails and work on the Monday and weekend report.  Sometimes I complete them on Saturday, but I usually spend 2 hours or so putting these together for the week on Sunday.  I think every school has their versions of these reports to set up their week, and communicate out to the community.  A reflective note: I think these are effective in communicating –some- of what goes on in the school, but inevitably I kick myself weekly for missing something.  With seven grades levels and 2,100+ students, this seems to be a common theme.  It’s an area I am continuing to work on.

Total Email sent for the day:                        12
Signatures:                                                     0

Began the day in district training for the MAP assessment at 745am.  Returned to school after the two and half hour training, around 1115am.  Walked around building and touched base with four of my APs, two team leads, and a counselor until around 1pm.  Since I had a meeting to start the day, we didn’t have our normal Monday admin meeting for the building, so went face to face with items I needed to make sure a couple of the folks needed to know.  Whenever we don’t start the week with admin meeting, I feel like we will be a little off for the whole week, so touching base on the important items is critical. 

Returned to my office and answered email for about 20 minutes.  During the time I had last checked email (around 1030am) I had 43 new items in my inbox.  I also signed my green folder (invoices, deposit slips, checks, etc) during this time.  I signed my name 19 times, and this will be something I track throughout the week.  Met one on one with an employee to discuss a concern. Spoke to my boss in the phone for about 5 minutes. 

Afterwards walked around some more, checking on some teachers, touching base with some students, and checking progress on one of our projects.  Spoke at length with our state department education leader assigned to our building on our upcoming state audit, and items necessary to making it successful.  Met with a teacher for a post observation conference from an observation during the previous week.  This was a positive meeting as she is at the point in her career and ability to define what she needs to do to continue to grow.  Fielded a call from an educator outside of the district who wanted me to present at a conference.  Met with one of my PBIS teachers to discuss incentive day coming up.  Met with one of team leads during their planning (not planned, just stopped by) to check pulse.  Met with a new teacher on their planning (not planned, just check in) to check pulse.

Table full of docs to sign the day before a break.

Local news station came during this time.  Spent 45 minutes with them being interviewed on building size/ space.  Talked with them until about 2pm, then went to a meeting of all of our winter athletes.  Delivered points about our athletic code of conduct, my expectations, and what it means to be a student athletes.  Monitored dismissal through first run buses then returned to office and made a phone on my list.  Afterwards talked to a couple of teachers about some items until about 330.  Then did paperwork in my office until I left for the day.  This consisted of working on the slides for our state audit in January, some title I stuff, reading some information on our pension (our legislature is looking to royally tear us up on our pension, and I am extremely invested in their decision), drafting some thoughts about graduation rate, and filing some evaluation paperwork.

Left the building around 530pm.  Spent family time until around 930pm, then spent about an hour and twenty minutes answering emails and reviewing documentation of a parent complaint.

Total Email sent for the day:                             48
Signatures:                                                         19

Started the day in the building at 6:41am.  Set up my laptop, got a cup of coffee, checked my mail until 6:57 and walked downstairs.  Did morning lobby duty until 7:30am.  This time consists of standing in the lobby, talking to a few people, talking to students, and telling students to stop playing in the bathroom (a daily reminder to middle school students).  After duty I walk the high school side, come back through the arts hallway, and walk the middle school side.  Walked around the building until around 810am and returned to my office.

Closed office door for about twenty minutes to return phone calls.  Returned a parent phone call.   Spent 21 minutes on the phone discussing a student’s progress.  Resolved with having a parent meeting with the teachers at the grade level.  Returned another parent phone call.  Spent about 4 minutes on the phone, got cussed at, redirected the parent, got cussed again, and hung up on them.  Radioed my secretary and told her to let my bosses secretary know she may get a complaint, and if the parent called back, that I would talk to them tomorrow.  Then went to a meeting with a district resource teacher to discuss PLCs/ vertical alignment in one of our content areas.  This was a productive conversation as she is good at her position and understands where our school is in terms of need.  Discussed vertical alignment, some ideas for a January in service day, and some documents.

Meet with STC to discuss copiers, and during this time signed my name 42 times to checks, statements, and other documents, because my bookkeeper (she’s awesome by the way) saw me in the library with the STC and asked if I had time to hit my folder.  Me and the STC discussed copiers because this a big issue for our school.  We have, by virtue of previous administration and years of practice, a ton of printers.  These are not cost effective, so we are transitioning to printing to copiers, to redirect money back into the classroom.
Afterwards went back to my office and worked on 2 meetings agendas for about 20 minutes.  Met with my secretary to discuss an employee on leave, spoke to the leave office.  Fielded a phone call from another HS principal to discuss some concerns mutual to our schools.  Met with an AP to discuss student concerns.  Followed up on emails for about 12 minutes, then spent about 20 minutes in the lobby talking to students/ staff during lunch.  Walked the halls for a few minutes, popped in a classroom for a brief walkthrough, filled out our instructional focus document (admission: I forgot to follow up with this teacher and they reminded me the next week) then returned to my office.

Ate lunch in my office (thanks Jeanne!) while I finished a behavioral letter home to our community, and posted it on social media.   During this time an AP came in and briefed me on an employee situation, a student stopped by to talk, and a clerk stopped by to talk.   Walked around the building for 15 minutes.  Came back and checked our social media accounts in my office for about 10 minutes.  Answered an email from a district person for about 5 minutes, then returned to walking around the building until dismissal.  Spoke to AP on dismissal to check status on EProve surveys while we monitored dismissal. Went to new teacher cohort to see what my APs were facilitating and checked with our new/ newer teachers.  Returned a phone call from a middle school principal.   Boss texted me on a couple of items. Left the building at 338pm to go to doc (sinus infection I get every year).  Met family for dinner, and also corresponded with my Admin team via GroupMe to discuss a problem we have with kids leaving campus and coming back onto property.  Worked on a letter for school (6:21-6:36) while my kids did their homework.  Did family things until around 845.  After kids went to bed worked on audit slides for January, answered some email, and reviewed EProve surveys until about 10:00.  Afterwards I worked on college class work until about 11, then went to bed.

Total Email sent for the day:                             47
Signatures:                                                         42

Started the day in the building at 6:44am.  Began the day meeting with an SBDM (our Site Based Decision Making council comprised of teachers, admin, and parents) member to help him construct a survey using google forms for his ad hoc committee.   Went to do morning duty after that.  Around 815 met with 2 APs working on CSIP.  Discussed this with them until about 920am.  Returned to my office to compose a response to a request from central office.  Did this until 940am.  

Walked around the building until around 1115am.  During this time went in four classrooms, met with an AP over a team issue, spoke with a few students about some things I had heard they had done, did a discipline conference with a  student for a minor infraction, spoke with a teacher and security guard about general issues, and signed my green folder (34 signatures) for the day.  A note here: I don’t do much discipline with 7 APs.  It honestly isn’t the best use of my time, but from time to time I do smaller discipline if an AP is unavailable, or I have interest in a particular student.  I usually consult on anything that requires a suspension of more than 2 days, and if it’s a big ticket discipline item, I am involved.  Last year we processed over 4,000 referrals, and 900 suspensions.  While I could write a dissertation on why I don’t think suspensions work, we don’t have many other alternatives.  We suspend for fighting, egregious behavior towards staff/students, weapon, drugs, and chronic misbehavior.  While I realize it’s easy to say from my chair, I do believe our suspensions are justified the vast majority of the time.  I think we can all agree we want students in class.

Returned to my office and looked at employment applications for about 15 minutes, as we have vacancies.  Since I took the position here, we have always had at least one vacancy.  I’ve hired over 120 people in the last 15 months, and we are close to being fully staffed.  With over 235 employees, this is pretty daunting.  Met with a teacher who wanted to discuss something.  Met with a clerk to check status on an item.  Returned to walking the halls until around 100, made it into 2 classrooms, stopped in on a PLC, and had a long conversation with an AP and teacher about some initiatives we are working on.  Stopped and talked to one of our KDE resource teachers for a few minutes, and touched base with my secretary.  Returned to my office around 100 and answered email, and spent about 15 minutes on personal business not related to school.

Attended Men of Quality meeting (youth program for young men run by one of our counselors) that afternoon.  Afterwards monitored the hall until 235pm, and then talked to our director of facilities about an issue, then caught up on some paperwork.
I left the building around 3:20 to make it to class on time.  Stopped and grabbed food for class, as we were doing a potluck.  Went to class at 430 until 810.  I am currently pursuing my doctorate.  During class texted with my boss to resolve a funding issue (she’s still working around 730).  Got home around 8:30, spent time with the family and put the kids to bed around 9.  Worked on some hobby work until about 1015, then answered emails and composed a staff attendance email.  I have been doing a lot of reading on attendance and have decided not to send out percentages and dog the staff on the importance of attendance.  They know it’s important, so instead, I’m going to spend time and effort on other items to monitor, and recognize that the work is tough and sometimes people call in.  Worked on these things until around 11:30pm, spent a couple minutes trying to do some reading for class, didn’t want to, and then went to bed.

Total Email sent for the day:                              57
Signatures:                                                         34

Started the day at central office.  I chose to get there early and answer some email/ work on items rather than go straight to the building as the drop off for my youngest child is nearer to central office than my school (and if I went to school I’d only have about 15 minutes before I’d have to leave to make my meeting).  The meeting was the Principal Communication Committee.  This is where principal representatives of their peers (mine is Area 3 High schools) share concerns common to their areas for the district to address.   This is attended by the superintendent and our chief academic officer.  They share some big ticket strategy items, and then listen to concerns, and either give answers, or form a plan to get an answer.  I like this committee as I think it is a good way to communicate the needs from the ground. This lasted until 10:10.
Returned to the building around 10:35 after grabbing a sandwich on route back.  Met with counselor on a student out of resides that we directed to attend their resides school, and gave him 3 suits that one of my college professors collected for his suit drive for our juniors and seniors in his men’s group.  Called pupil personnel and talked to an assistant DPP for about ten minutes.  Afterwards met with our Chief Operations Officer for our district and my STC to discuss copiers, centralizing, and cost saving to redirect more money back into the classroom.  An editorial note here:  I think it’s cool that one of our Chiefs actually comes out and spends time to help us work through these issues.  Often, central office is maligned, and I think many times we only focus on the negative.  A supportive, consistent central office is what a school needs to be great. 

After meeting, a teacher popped in and updated me on his climate change project and radio spot.  I walked around the building for about 45 minutes after that, and then spent some time reviewing some assessment data.  During this time signed my green folder.  Then met with a parent, grandparent, student to hear their complaint and to let them know they could not come back to school as we were no longer their resides school.  Gave them information for their new school across town.  It was not a very pleasant meeting.  Afterwards called pupil personnel office to give them a heads up, and signed some documents for my bookkeeper and secretary.  Went and touched base with 2 APs on some issues afterwards and discussed a personnel issue.  Had a phone call from another department, then monitored the tail end of dismissal.  Walked down to cafeteria for last buses, talked to AD for a bit to touch base, and monitored kids with APs in the cafeteria.  After that went to the middle school drama performance.  Left the building at 4:35, and went to work on class stuff until just after 7:00.  Got home and had family time until 900.

Worked on Monday report from 900 until 1030.  During this time texted with my boss about issues from the day/week that needed discussion.  A note here: this is not an expectation.  She replied back to me about an item I had sent earlier in the day, and then conversation started.  Boss is respectful of people’s time, but available when you have questions.  Remember that common theme of central office support?  It’s not brownnosing here, but as a future principal, you must expect central office support, and when it’s done right, be thankful for it.  They need reinforcement too.

Total Email sent for the day:                              47
Signatures:                                                         31

Same as yesterday, started the day at central office.  Went to district meeting on new budget allocation for schools for next year at Central Office.  This lasted until about 945.  Returned to the building by 1015.  Started by talking with secretary about start of the day.  Returned a parent phone call, and a phone call to a board office.  Walked around the building for a half an hour touching base with a couple of folks.  Sat in a new teacher’s classroom and put some feedback on their instructional focus document (I followed up with this teacher the next Monday).  Monitored the halls until I returned to my office around 1130.

A counselor grabbed lunch for a bunch of us and I went to her office to get my lunch, and happened to be near a student who was screaming in the hallway every obscenity under the sun at another student, and then at a staff member during hallway transition.  Security guard was trying to calmly get her to go into a nearby office.  She tried to move past the guard several times, I intercepted and moved her into the office by getting in her way.  She tried to get past me a couple of times, but eventually got her to see reason and sit down.  Conflict was with a peer.  Counselor and guard sat down with her and got to the bottom of it.  I explained to her when she was calm that her behavior was wholly unacceptable.  We discussed how this was not the first time, or even the second, and that it’s not ok to scream obscenities at people in the hall, or try and push past people. She agreed, and her AP took over.  Decided on a 2 day suspension in accordance with our code of conduct.

Ate lunch while talking to counselor and guard, answered some emails.  Walked the halls for a bit and touched base with another AP on a student concern.  Let the AP vent some frustrations, and discussed some items we need to reinforce when we get back from thanksgiving break.  Got a call from another principal and spent about five minutes on that.  Then went into a classroom.  Students working on a project, talked to them for a bit, and then got a call our fridges and equipment for culinary had come in.  Went and looked at the equipment.

Returned to the office and answered some email.  During this time met with our senior class president to discuss an item we were working on.  Met with a teacher to do post observation from the previous week (she had been out for a few days so our meeting was pushed back), spent about twenty minutes doing her post observation.  This was not a great meeting as she received some low marks on several items.  Gave her my advice for what to do next, and a few directives on what had to do next.  Signed some things my bookkeeper brought me.  Received a call from another district office with a reminder to do a report we had not submitted yet.  Called the AP in charge of the report to fix the issue.  Met with one of our support personnel (social worker) to discuss a student concern she thought I needed to be aware of.  After my HS athletic director stopped by to talk about basketball season and some items I needed to be aware of.  A big topic of our conversation was a new local prep school and how that impacted scholastic basketball.  This may seem like it’s not driving the mission, but I’d urge you to think about these things and how they impact scholastic concerns.  If you are in charge of a high school and don’t see the benefit of athletics, I don’t know what to tell you.  Answered a couple of texts from my boss during this time on an issue from earlier in the week.  Reviewed some items on our CSIP that is currently being drafted.

Met with the student who had the outburst from earlier with her AP to discuss her wish not to be suspended.  Explained why I believed suspension was warranted, and how ultimately holding her accountable would be better for her in 5-10 years.  She actually agreed, and committed to returning and meeting with our mental health and counselor to come up with a plan on how to change her behaviors and stick to it.  Walked the halls until dismissal, mainly to make sure kids weren’t wandering out of area, which is an issue on Fridays near the end of the day on our HS side especially.  Politely reminded a few to return to class.  Stood with an AP at one of our high traffic areas and talked about non-school related stuff while we stink eyed students who tried to wander out of class.
During dismissal got a report that a student we suspended had got back into the building and was looking for the AP who suspended them to ostensibly “talk” about the suspension.  Spent about 10 minutes looking for them, another employee found them and escorted them back off property, reminding them that they were trespassing.  During this time also talked to a teacher who had a concern about another employees out of school status.  Talked to an AP, coach, student, and teacher in the hallway where we all chided him for being goofy in class, and discussed our expectations for him as a leader.  He took the feedback well and promised to be less goofy.

Left the building at 305 to go pick up my son for basketball practice.  Took a call on route for student due process to discuss a student that might be placed in the building, discussed student that had come back on campus and that we were referring them for alternative placement.  Did family stuff until around 900 then answered some emails and corresponded with boss about an ongoing issue.  Felt guilty that I didn’t go to our wrestling scrimmage (alumni night), because it’s a big deal, but family wanted to stay in that night, so didn’t feel too guilty.  Stopped working around 1000, did some hobby stuff and went to bed around 100.

Total Email sent for the day:                         68
Total Signatures for the day:                         55

After breakfast worked from 930 to 1030 on Monday report for the week and answered some email.  Spent around an hour in the afternoon working on class work for school.
Total Email sent for the day:                         23
Total signatures for the day:                          0

Total Email sent for the week:                    302
Total Signatures for the week:                   181

Add on day: A Principal’s “Day without kids”
As I was preparing this post, we had a day without students.  I am a 261 day employee (year round) so when we have a break and don’t have students, I’m usually here with my custodial staff and secretary.  I thought it might be informative to give you readers an idea of what a Principal does when kids aren’t in the building.
Started the day in the building just before 700.  Got an email first off from our superintendent that we were allowed to close up shop at 1200 for the holiday, so that was a good way to start the day.  Met with secretary on building concerns for about twenty minutes.  Met two new custodial staff assigned to our building.  Checked with plant operator to see where she was in her training.  Updated our admin team DoD (Division of Duties).  Our admin team is close to 20 deep with APs, Counselors, support personnel.  Hard to make sure we have it all covered.  Reviewed our current budget codes.  Totaled out, our school budget is around fifteen million, with quite a bit of that in flexible codes that we oversee.  The bulk is of course in personnel that we don’t oversee, but the flexible codes total twenty two pages long, and as the principal, it’s my job to monitor them and ensure we are spending them according to budget.  The budget it a collaborative effort, but most of the spending is driven from my office. Worked on SBDM policies being posted to our website and internally.  Checked final grammar/ language on some policies we had just ratified in our council.  Cleaned out laundry from office, as I have a habit of letting shirts stack up when I change for a night event.  Cleaned office and cleared off desk. 

Walked around the building with a clipboard and map in hand.  I like to do this on days without kids to both look for things to fix, and also places where I want new graphics or visuals to improve our building.

Spent a solid half hour signing stuff.  Truth be told, I didn’t sign anything the day before the break because I knew I’d have the next day to sign things.  So it mounted up.  Signed our payroll, the green folder, and my red folder.  This totaled 141 signatures.  Spent the rest of the day working on improvement plans.

Total Email sent for the day without kids:                              32
Total Signatures for the day without kids:                              141


I really enjoyed writing this post, as it forced me to log my week.  Amazing what we can manage in a weeks time.  Below i'll offer a few reflective points.

1.     Prepare for, and then live with feeling like you are spread all over the place.  Because you are.  This is where competent people around you, and strong systems matter.
2.     Email will be the ban of your existence.  It is out of control how much you will utilize email.  We are a pretty google and cloud savvy school.  Doesn’t matter, still live in email hell.
3.     You will sign your name A LOT.  Get a good bookkeeper and secretary that can keep you on point with the number of times you sign your name, and what you are authorizing.  Any one of those signatures, if it is a mis-expenditure of funds can result in you being in disciplinary trouble, or being let go.  Know how finance works.  Your college program will not prepare you adequately for this, so attend auxiliary trainings and find practicing principals that you can learn from.
4.     Expect that some of your evening, pretty much every evening will be spent on the schoolhouse.  I’ve gotten better at the work/ life balance, but almost every day requires some work at home just to be decent at the job.  I’ve been a principal in three buildings, and this has been par for the course for me.  I don’t know a single colleague of mine who would disagree with this either.
5.     Don’t dog central office folks too much.  If you will notice in my narrative my boss touched base with me/ answered questions several times throughout the week.  In my experience (2 districts as a principal) this is pretty consistent.  Supportive assistant superintendents/ superintendents make a world of difference and make you a better leader.
6.     When they tell you pursuing a Doctorate and working as a full time admin is hard, believe them.  It’s absolutely brutal for a number of reasons:
o   The amount of reading and work
o   The constant feeling you are behind
o   The constant feeling you are missing school events.  I miss out on things I would normally go to as a principal because I have class.
·           The amount of extra time it puts into your week.
7.     Mission is the root of the work.  If you aren’t doing this job from a mission driven standpoint, I don’t think it will be fulfilling, or you will be terribly effective.
8.     Lastly: It’s worth it.  Being a school principal is an insanely fulfilling (and grinding) job.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Letter to Kentucky Legislators 10/22/17

Letter sent 10/21/17 to the legislators as part of my daily contact/ call to bring visibility to our concerns as educators in the Commonwealth.  I sent this via email listing to each representative, and senator for the Commonwealth.


My name is Robert Fulk, Principal of The Marion C. Moore School in Louisville, KY JCPS.  We are the largest school in the city of Louisville with an enrollment of over 2,150.  I have over 240 folks that work for me here at Moore and right now, they are scared.  I’d like to take a moment and give you some context as to why Pension Reform is so critical not only to our school, but to the Commonwealth, and our future generations of Kentuckians.

Without a doubt, I am invested in the future of our Commonwealth.  I am Kentucky born, and my adult life has been in service to the school system.  I own property, pay taxes, and volunteer my time to better my city and state.  I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Olmsted Parks, the school board for St Nicholas Academy, and an active parishioner of OLMC.  I am a father of three wonderful kids, and married to an educator. I am the principal of the largest school in the city of Louisville.  THE Marion C. Moore, grades 6-12.  We have over 2,150 students.  I took this building over last year as it was failing, culture was terrible, and our programs were abysmal.  In a year we’ve added engineering, Electricians track, Culinary Arts, Medical pathways, and dual credit for our students.  We have opened the doors to prepare our students more fully for their next step, and our culture is growing rapidly, daily.  In a year we have shown marked improvement in any measurable category and we are quickly becoming known for our turnaround.  A big component of this is hiring.  Last year I hired 78 staff.  This year I’ve hired 37.  One of the driving factors in new teachers in the pension, and for those of us already vested it is a huge component of why we choose this work.  It is an essential recruitment and retention tool.  Without the pension, I will lose quality applicants.  This is an undeniable fact from any study on pension reform.  We are already paid less than comparable fields with as much education, and removing the pension from this equation is shackling a system even further.  I ask those of you that are businessmen and women, could you sustain high performance in your industry with my current hiring ratio?  We are proud that in a year we have cut our hiring in half, but removing the pension will only make this problem worse.  It is not sustainable.

By my best estimate I have paid in over $140,000 in my career, and this is my 14th year.  11%+ per paycheck, without fail, and without griping.  Yet here we are now and I am told I may lose what is promised to me in an inviolable contract.  Like any employer-employee relationship, teachers and school administrators accept their employment in schools based on assurances that they would receive certain levels of salary and benefits. More importantly, these assurances are in law. Each year that they have already worked represents a year in which they performed their obligations under that contract. The legislature must live up to its obligations as well, and continue to provide the benefits it has committed to provide for each of the years that the employee has already worked. Any retroactive reduction of benefits, including sick leave accumulation, would represent a breach of contractual obligations.  The current plan presented this week is not good.  Aside from the defacto pay cut of 3%, the burden placed on the district of 2%, and the provision of putting the pension aside if you work more than 100 hours for a state institution (how will we have retired subs, retired administrator covering schools in between principals, or retired folks teaching at public universities?) this plan is not keeping the promise.

I have, and all of my people have fulfilled my end of the contract faithfully.  As principal of the largest school in the city of Louisville I average about 70 hours a week of work.  I do not get social security.  I am compensated well, but if you remove the pension from the equation good luck finding people with as many degrees as an average principal has (and eventually a Doctorate) that will work on average 3300+ hours a year for our students.  I am the norm for an effective school principal.  Removing the pension from our field will result in less qualified teachers, and in my case, school leaders.  You do not want this, not for the future of the Commonwealth.  I have worked my time with the assurance the pension will be there.  I am expecting to retire in 17-18 years or so when I hang it up that my pension will be there, intact; as quite frankly it is your obligation to fulfill this contract.  Whether or not you or the previous body of legislators have mismanaged, underfunded, or otherwise kicked the can down the road is immaterial to me, my teachers, my classified folks, and any else in education.  We have done our part.

You have an obligation to me, and to the 240 employees in my building, and the rest of us around the state.  This will be the primary issue on which I base my votes for either of your reelection, and what I communicate as a member of our community.  I urge you to do the right thing and protect our pension.  We have done our part, faithfully.  I will confess, I believe this will be found on deaf ears.  I have contacted Senator Seum, and Representative Donahue several times with no response, a trend mirrored by several of my staff, as these men are our legislators for the Highview area.  This issue is essential to us, and to the future of the Commonwealth. 

I send this to you as a citizen of our Commonwealth, a sitting school principal, the HS role group representative of JCASA, a volunteer on numerous boards, and as a father who is relying on his pension for his twilight years.  Please consider what you are doing to the future of the Commonwealth.


Robert Fulk
The Marion C. Moore School

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Athletics and the School: Expectations, Participation, Parents, and the AAU.

I like high school sports.  It’s kind of hard not to if you are a high school principal.  I appreciate the passion, intensity, and work ethic of our athletes.  I respect our coaches (I was a head wrestling coach for some time) and love what athletics can do to build a young person’s character, teamwork, and work ethic.  Athletics can and often is the reason some of our students come to school.  It motivates, it gives an outlet for kids, and can open doors to success for the talented.

It can also be one of the ugliest things about a school.  When the “me first” mentality takes a hold of athletics, and puts sports before academics, a school has a real problem on their hands.

Recently my football coach followed through with our athletic code of conduct, and a couple people were not happy when we lost a game.  They blamed the coach for benching eleven of his players. 

“They’re just kids.” 
“Teachers were too harsh”
“Why make the team suffer?”

Perhaps I am too harsh, but all of those are excuses for poor behavior.  When we put athlete before student, we’ve made a mistake.  As a wise man (Keith Davis, Superintendent of BCPS) said every year during our opening meetings: “Athletics enhance the mission, but are not the mission.”

A couple of guiding points I use in my practice:

Athletics are a privilege, not a right.  Say it again for those in the back.  As a principal I am under no obligation to give a student special treatment because they are good at sports.

As a principal I will happily have teams that never win a game as long as the kids we put out there are high character who are doing it right.  Having a winning team full of students that are taking advantage of the world around them isn’t conducive to a student’s real #futureself, just the moment.  In a perfect world I want high character students winning a ton of games.  That’s what we aspire to.

STUDENT-athlete.  The student comes first.  If a kid won’t get it done in the classroom, they will not play.  This is both academically or behaviorally.  If a student wants to not work, or act like a donkey, they don’t see the field.

I will not listen to, nor blame a loss on a coach who sits a student because they can’t be of high character.  Student that doesn’t rise to expectation needs to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.  The parent who is looking for a free pass because their kid is talented, needs to reevaluate their priorities.

I have to expect 100% of my coaches to get in line with this thinking.  If they can’t, we work with them.  If they still can’t we need to find a new coach.  If you ever want to really have parents at your door angry, part ways with a winning coach who doesn’t do it the right way.  Sleep well though, you’re doing the right thing.

I have to commit that this might make us lose some students.  If they can’t rise to the expectation, then be OK when they transfer.  They could have been the next Lebron James, but if they act like Terrell Owens in class, then you are better off that they went elsewhere.

I have to clearly communicate what our expectations are.  At my school we do this through our Athletic Code of Conduct, which is pretty stringent.  This code was written by our SBDM comprised of teachers, parents, and admin. 

Inevitably there is a parent who believes their kid will be the next D1 standout.  Perhaps they will be.  They will tie everything back to athletics, and seek favor or privilege because their kid is talented.  I’m looking at you Mr. Ball.  They will crow about how awesome their kid is, and how they need to focus on their sport because it’s going to pay for college.  We are not in the business of preparing students for athletic careers, we are in the business of education.  Remind them of these things:

Colleges don’t want:
-         Athletes who can’t make the grades
-         Athletes who have a me first mentality
-         Athletes who can’t be coached
-         Athletes who are lazy
-         Athletes who have a bad attitude

They want high character athletes who can get it done on and off the court.  I talked to a coach at FSU who told me “We don’t want to deal with kids and their parents who don’t understand academics comes first.  I have 1,000 kids who want to play each position for us, I won’t pick the kid who is a fool.”

In this same line of thinking you may encounter the AAU parent, or travel parent who will toss at your feet that their kid plays softball nonstop, and this is so very important to them.  We don’t control AAU or travel.  They can have high or low expectations, and it’s not our wheelhouse.  What we do have oversight over is scholastic sports.  Want special privileges because your kid is good at softball?  Then they better make the grades and do what they need to in class.  What they do in travel ball has no bearing on what they do in school. 

As an aside principals- STOP giving excused absences to kids who go play in the “Travel Ball state championship/ national qualifier” it’s a money making scheme and in my opinion, ruining kid’s sports as it is.  How is anyone a national champion when only 4 teams showed up?

On the subject of things in athletics that distract from the school and promote the ‘me first’ mentality: ranking services.  I laugh when I hear that a kid is “ranked #32 in the nation as an 8th grader in Outside Linebackers”.  Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?  I am extremely suspect of these services as they always seem to be tied to some “camp” that the student is then invited to.

Guess what?  The camp costs money.  It always seems to cost money.

So they pump up a kid with their “ranking” and then invite them to a “special camp” to get “exposure”.  It’s about making money off the kid and their family.  I cringe when I see the free and reduced lunch kid who is excited because of this stuff, and wonder where they will get the money if they decide to go.  As a general rule, I have nothing but contempt for these types of services that I see as preying on kids.  I’m sure there are some good ones out there, but I haven’t ran into many.  As a principal, I don’t want them to have anything to do with my school.

Lastly we all have parents/ spectators who take it too far.  Don’t let them.  Even if their kid is the best player you have.  If they are cussing refs, coaches, other students ask them to stop.  If they don’t kick them off campus, and send them a no trespass letter if they can’t behave in public.  They have no right to be at an athletic event if they are harassing people and acting the fool.  Do not tolerate it.  As a principal you have the ability to set the tone of what good conduct is at an athletic event. 

Beyond the athlete who may get a college scholarship, we’re foremost in the business of preparing students for their #futureself.  Holding them to low expectations, allowing them the privilege to play sports when they spend 7 hours in school not being a student doesn’t prepare for them for their next step.  Taking a stand in athletics is a direct benefit to the school.  It is frustrating for teachers to have the star QB in class acting the fool, and then root for them on Friday night.  It is frustrating to see lower expectations for those who are supposed to be representing the school.  I am 100% in favor of higher expectations for those who want to do sports, and the results from doing so with students who are oftentimes leaders far outweigh the negatives.  Promote a culture of high character for your athletes and after the initial grumbling is out of the way, you will see results.  Then do not backslide. Have the same expectations from the starter to the bench warmer, and be consistent in their application.

I encourage you to draw a hard line when it comes to athletics.  The students will benefit from it, as will your school culture.

Recruit/ Retain/ Support Highly Effective People: Support- The Shout Out

In another post I’ll explain my basic tenet for building culture: get out of their way and let them work.  For this post though, I’d like to talk about one simple action I’ve used that I think builds culture.  As with anything presented in this blog I don’t pretend to be an expert, and my intent is to simply share some of the stuff from my practice that I think works.  This is a part of the ongoing series I’m working on: Recruit/Retain/Support Highly Effective People; specifically in the realm of supporting folks. 

I am not a fan of manufactured events to improve school culture.  I don’t think people come to work to receive manufactured praise.  I think they come to work for fulfillment in their job, and to get paid.  I think people want to work in a school where they know honesty and trust are cornerstones of the work.  If the praise they receive isn’t honest, then how are going to take critical feedback later on?  Disingenuous cultures don’t last, and I believe folks flee them at the first chance they get.

I think culture is created and maintained by the adherence to two ideas:

With the hope that this will translate to a simple vision that does not change My School is a good place to work.  A huge part of supporting highly effective folks is recognizing them when they are doing the right thing. 

The culture I want in our school is one where folks know where they stand, where good work is celebrated and reinforced, where they understand that they will be treated fairly and ethically, and have an understanding of what is happening on campus.  One of the things we do to build culture, speaking directly to celebrating and reinforcing good work is how we do shout outs.  It’s pretty simple, and I think authentic. 

Praise is important when it’s genuine, and just like feedback to a student, “Good Job” doesn’t go very far.  Folks want to know why they are doing a good job, and I think people appreciate being recognized for their work when they go above and beyond, and as equally important; when they are consistently performing at a high level.   Each week I send out a ‘shout out’ link where staff can highlight both students and staff.  I think it’s important that I send it out, not a clerk, or an AP, but the principal.  If it comes from the principal’s office it’s more likely to be read, and it clearly communicates what the office values.

I think our shout outs does a decent job of promoting a positive culture.  I’ve never heard any bad feedback about the shout outs, and folks seem to enjoy highlighting their peers.  I may have rose colored glasses on, but I figure if people have a ritual of celebrating their peers- good work is reinforced, and folks appreciate kind words from their colleagues.

I have no expectation of anyone filling them out weekly, and there are no parameters to shout out a coworker.  If it was mandated, I think it wouldn’t be genuine.  We usually have between 35-45 people that celebrate someone.  It can be for anything they wish to celebrate.  I’d love to see everyone celebrate someone each week, but if it doesn’t happen authentically, it doesn’t happen.  I do highlight when we have weeks with exceptional responses.  One week we had over 70 people send in a shout out.  That was really cool to see.  I enjoy reading them each week and seeing our people value each other.  If we ever had a week that every staff member sent in a shout out to a peer, I’d probably do a backflip down the hall.

At the end of each week I compile them off the spreadsheet generated by the google form, use the snipping tool and cut and paste them into my Monday report unedited, and folks can see them at the bottom of each report.  This takes up about 20 minutes of my weekend, and I think it’s time well spent.  Using the google form makes it pretty seamless.  I’m still playing with the format that it comes out in, but for now I used the snipping tool and cut and paste it directly.  I am sure there is a better way to do it, and make it look better; but style is not my forte.  Any ideas out there, I’ll happily listen.

I try and do my own shout outs each week in conjunction with the staff shout outs.  Admittedly I’m spotty on numbers, sometimes its 3-4, and sometimes its 20 people.  It’s based off what I have seen during the week, and limited to what I encounter.  So if I have a week full of meetings, odds are I’m not going to have a lot of people to celebrate. 

In the past I kept a list to make sure I highlighted people at least twice a year.  I stopped doing that in 15-16 because it’s not genuine.  If I don’t celebrate someone, it’s not because I don’t like them, or don’t find value in them, it’s because I haven’t seen something face to face to shout out.  This ties back to genuine praise.  I don’t feel that I am honest if I have a check off list that I keep.  I’ll praise and reinforce what I see.  I think being genuine about this upholds the value of the process, and peoples work.  Praise that’s not authentic, or boilerplate isn’t honest.  It makes people feel like that they are on a list to check off. 

Will a weekly shout out change the building over night?  No.  Culture is a facet of many things, and for us, this is one component.  Hope you found the post worthwhile and it spurred some thinking on how you celebrate authentically in your school.