This past week, I joined 108 other community members in becoming a “principal for a day” in one of our Metro Schools. Coordinated by the PENCIL Foundation
each fall since 2002, this is a unique opportunity to spend a morning getting an inside look at our school system. You certainly gain a better understanding of just how demanding it is to be a school principal, and, if you are observant and ask the right questions, you also develop a better appreciation for the many successes happening in our schools each day, as well as the considerable challenges that make the job so difficult.
I spent the morning shadowing Jeanette Smith, principal of Glencliff Elementary,
a pre-K through 4 school nestled in the middle of a neighborhood on Antioch Pike about a mile southeast off Nolensville Road. The school has a little more than 500 students, with the largest ethnic group being Latino. One of the school’s main challenges this year has been to fully integrate English Language Learner (ELL) instruction with general education. School staff support the move, but helping general education teachers work effectively with students who may have a very limited command of English has been difficult.
I started the day visiting with the school’s pre-K class, who were finishing up breakfast in the cafeteria. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these 4-year olds -- besides the fact that they were all downing their nourishment so quietly you could hear a pin drop -- was that their outstanding teacher had recently been a district manager for Staples, but decided to make a career change into education through the Nashville Teaching Fellows program. Initiated two years ago by Mayor Karl Dean and Metro Schools through the national nonprofit New Teacher Project, this program helps career-changing professionals and recent college graduates from non-education backgrounds work their way into the teaching profession.
Other highlights of my day included reading The Cat in the Hat
to a class of kindergarten ELL students, sitting in on a planning meeting for the second-grade teaching team, and talking to a third-grade class about the importance of writing effectively in the world of business. We also took a quick school bus ride with a first-grade class next door to Glencliff High School, where YMCA instructors provide swimming lessons to the children as part of physical education. The pool, inside Glencliff High School, but managed by the YMCA and open to the community, is a great example of public/private partnership and how a community school model can benefit a neighborhood.
The day concluded with a luncheon at the Martin Professional Development Center for all Principal for a Day participants. Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register talked about the difficulties principals face, particularly as their job descriptions entail responsibilities ranging from building managers to leaders of instruction. The principal I shadowed was promoted from being an assistant principal five years ago and was provided a minimal amount of training and support in those crucial early years. She complimented the district’s move to create instructional rounds, whereby all principals will learn how to observe classroom instruction. In addition, over the course of this school year all principals will receive leadership training from the Rutherford Learning Group. Perhaps even more importantly, assistant principals will also participate in these leadership opportunities, giving Metro Schools the opportunity to create a strong and reliable pipeline of prepared school leaders.
If you are interested in being a Principal for a Day in 2011, contact Nikki Baker at the PENCIL Foundation,
Chamber Chief Education Officer Marc Hill shadows Glencliff Elementary principal Jeanette Smith.