Long ago, I used to say that having a great school is like a three-legged stool partnership with teachers/staff and parents and principal. After my personal experience and years of listening to parents' experiences at other schools, I revised that because the biggest leg really is the principal.
I feel that way because the principal sets the tone, the focus and usually has a lot of ability in creating a staff for the school. Many successful principals, like many successful schools, appear to get more leeway because of their abilities. (This harkens back to former Superintendent Olfchefske's "tight/loose" theory that if a school is doing well, loosen up that grip, if not, tighten up.)
This ability for some principals to have greater control certainty looks true in a column at the Times about one reporter who about to become a Seattle schools' parent.
But listening to Fairmount’s new principal, Julie Breidenbach, I was heartened.
Literacy will be her mantra. Music, her holy grail. And science-tech-math? Not so much.
“I look at this as my little public charter school,” Breidenbach
said, demonstrating her acknowledged penchant for operating without much
of a political filter. “We’ll be inclusive of all children, but we get
to do some things differently.”
Difference Number One: A strong push-back against the technology flavor-du-jour.
“Nothing sends shivers down my spine” like plunking little kids in
front of computers, Breidenbach remarked. “Everything we do is about
literacy. The math and science will come. But you will not be successful
as an adult in this society if you are not highly literate. Kids need
to learn to communicate.”
To that end, Fairmount has $140,000 for a new library, and 9,000
books. Reading at home — while required — will not count toward
Those are some interesting quotes.
First, as we all should know by now, a regular public school can do anything a charter can except a charter doesn't have to hire unionized teachers. I think Ms. Breidenbach knows that, too.
Second, not so much for the science/tech/math? Clearly, Ms. Breidenbach knows that there has to be some focus to that because it gets tested. To say "the math and science will come" is fairly vague.
From my comments(partial):
You are lucky to get this principal. She's smart and knows how to
get things done. Clearly the district wants this school to get a good
start. I suspect her confidence in being able to have her own "charter
school" was part of the package to move her.
From Charlie's comments (and to the point of wondering how principals get assigned, noting that Ms. Breidenbach was not in the recent list of principal assignments by Superintendent Banda):
Wow. You got Julie Breidenbach? You have it very, very good. She is an
exceptionally strong principal. She did very well at Lowell and
brilliantly at Thurgood Marshall. She knows how to act independently of
District rules, how to support her teachers, how to support her
students, and how to support her community. She knows to tailor the
school to the needs of the students.
The culture of any institution flows down from the top. The culture
of a school reflects the principal. Having a good principal is the most
important element to having a good school. Not only does a good
principal set a strong positive culture, but good teachers want to work
with good principals, so you'll have better teachers on the staff and
they won't turnover as fast.
Now think of this: how many school communities get any say about
which principal is assigned to their school. Some school communities get
to put together hiring committees, interview candidates, and make
recommendations. Some school communities wake up one morning and are
surprised to read their new principal's name in the newspaper. There's
no equity. None. So how does Fairmount Park get Julie Breidenbach, and
who gets assigned to Thurgood Marshall next year? What happens to
Thurgood Marshall? Do you even care?