It’s the prin­ci­pal of the thing

The Catoosa County News - - WORSHIP DIRECTORY - David Car­roll

For more than twenty years, I’ve been an ed­u­ca­tion re­porter. Most of the time, I’ve loved it. I go into more schools than the milk de­liv­ery guy. I reg­u­larly visit twenty dif­fer­ent coun­ties and school dis­tricts, and more than a hun­dred schools a year. I see the rich ones, the poor ones, the new ones, the crum­bling ones.

How did this come to be? My boss called me in one day and said, “David, we think you should spe­cial­ize in some­thing. You need a reg­u­lar beat.” I replied, “That’s fine, but just keep in mind that I like to be pos­i­tive. Could you as­sign me some­thing that doesn’t have con­tro­versy, con­flict, and pol­i­tics?” He said, “Okay, how about schools?” I jumped at the chance. Now about that con­tro­versy, con­flict, and pol­i­tics: all I can say is, be care­ful what you wish for.

Dur­ing this time, I’ve met hun­dreds of prin­ci­pals. Most of them un­der­stand my role. If their school has great test scores, or wins a big award, I should cover it. But if their school is van­dal­ized, or a teacher gets in trou­ble, I should cover that too. Early on, a few prin­ci­pals hit me with this painful ac­cu­sa­tion: “You only put us on the news when it’s some­thing bad.” Sadly, too of­ten they were right. I pledged to visit them when some­thing good was go­ing on too, to give them pos­i­tive cov­er­age. That is still my goal.

As you might ex­pect, be­ing an ed­u­ca­tion re­porter, I get plenty of parental com­plaints. They used to ar­rive by let­ter, a few still come by phone, and now they’re most of­ten by e-mail or Face­book. Many of the com­plaints are about bus driv­ers and oth­ers are about teach­ers or prin­ci­pals. I look into each one. Most are the re­sult of poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and when the two sides ac­tu­ally talk, the prob­lem re­solves it­self. How­ever, some of them are valid com­plaints. If I do my job well, the prob­lem ei­ther gets solved, or it be­comes a story in which the pub­lic is in­formed about an is­sue that could af­fect them.

Cer­tainly there are poor per­form­ing prin­ci­pals, just as there are poor per­form­ers in ev­ery oc­cu­pa­tion you can name, in­clud­ing news re­porters. Still, I sym­pa­thize with prin­ci­pals, par­tic­u­larly those in pub­lic schools who feel like they’re wear­ing huge tar­gets on their backs.

The best prin­ci­pals are the ones who un­der­stand what I be­lieve to be the three most im­por­tant parts of their job. I of­ten tell them they should spend 40 percen of their time on aca­demics, 40 percen on dis­ci­pline and 40 per­cent on pub­lic/par­ent re­la­tions. Yes, that adds up to 120 per­cent, but any prin­ci­pal will tell you they put in that ex­tra time.

That is es­pe­cially true for high school prin­ci­pals. The money is good, for sure. But who among us wants to un­lock the door at 6 a.m., be re­spon­si­ble for the safety of 1500 or more teenagers in this un­pre­dictable world, and at­tend ev­ery ath­letic event, PTA meet­ing, dance and fundraiser? Folks, they earn their pay.

They face in­creas­ing scru­tiny from the pub­lic and the press, have to deal with ever-chang­ing state and fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, and must ad­just cur­ricu­lum and class sched­ules ev­ery year. They must man­age a staff of sev­eral dozen ed­u­ca­tors, each of whom is given one of the most im­por­tant jobs on earth: be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the safety, be­hav­ior and progress of or chil­dren. Speak­ing of safety, when you en­ter any pub­lic school you’ll be re­minded of how times have changed. So­phis­ti­cated se­cu­rity sys­tems have been in­stalled at each en­trance, re­plac­ing the un­locked doors of our youth. Prin­ci­pals will tell you it is a ne­ces­sity, re­flect­ing the real world dan­gers of to­day.

Most prin­ci­pals un­der­stand that they’re the face of their school, and the good ones know how to set the right tone for their cam­pus. One of my fa­vorite prin­ci­pals is at a ru­ral high school. Walk­ing down the hall with him one day, I saw him spot a 9th grader out of dress code. “Boy, you bet­ter get that shirt tail in, or I’ll whup your (butt),” he said in a stern tone of voice. He could tell I was a bit star­tled by his col­or­ful choice of words. “Aw, that’s noth­ing,” he said. “I grew up with that boy’s daddy. That’s the only lan­guage he un­der­stands. And he knows I’m not re­ally gonna whup his (butt). I’d let his daddy han­dle that.”

Such is the life of a high school prin­ci­pal. Mid­dle school prin­ci­pals deal with rag­ing hor­mones. Ele­men­tary prin­ci­pals get a lot of hugs, but have to wave off clingy par­ents. Above all, my ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me this: I’d rather re­port on prin­ci­pals than be one.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries, avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­, or by send­ing $23 to David Car­roll Book, PO Box 15185, Chat­tanooga, TN 37415. You may con­tact David at

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.