Alison Hazut, principal of The Earth School, Rashid Davis, founding principal of P-TECH, and Dr.Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, joined The Brian Lehrer Show on President’s Day for a roundtable discussion on being a principal.
They described a job that is one part building manager, and many parts instructional leader and advocate, while navigating budget cuts and new standards.
“It is a tough time.” Hazut said. “We are definitely working with less resources than ever before but I have to say I have a wonderful staff, highly dedicated, hard working folks that go well beyond.”
On the implementation of the new Common Core learning standards, the principals said they have seen changes in the classrooms already. Davis said it’s led to more collaboration between principals and teachers which, in turn, he hoped would mean more consistency across school districts for “high-mobility” students.
But both Hazut and Feeney raised a concern about the standardized tests connected to the new standards even though overall they supported the goals of Common Core.
“There has been a movement away from the notion of really textual understanding and reading comprehension and kids have drifted away from that through necessity,” Feeney said. “There’s been such an emphasis on these sort of tests that the Common Core in some ways seems to me a way to pull the drift away from that.”
On the day Frederic Dicker reported in the New York Post that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would step in to the New York City standoff between the mayor and the teachers’ union on reaching a teacher evaluation deal, Brian Lehrer asked the principals how they currently evaluated teachers.
Hazut said that teachers develop over time and her method of evaluation centers on a conversation with her teachers. “It’s rigorous work, and it’s challenging,” she said.
It’s about the relationship, Davis said. “The relationship that I can have to give feedback to the teachers and for them to be receptive to take that. And also my supporting them to give them professional development to help them be lifelong learners and really better their craft.”
Feeney has led a petition of principals concerned about any statewide evaluation system that relies too much on test scores. He said he used test scores to judge his own teachers; his concern was on the over emphasis of scores.
“The effect of a teacher matters but it’s only at most 15 percent of the overall learning impact on a student and when you’re making high-stakes decisions based on bad information that’s not supported by research that should be of concern to all of us,” he said.
Take a listen to the full conversation, and share your thoughts below.