It’s early September and that means school is back in session. School also has been in the headlines -- whether it’s controversy over President Obama talking to school children or concerns about Iowa schools and the No Child Left Behind standards.
The Iowa Journal goes behind the headlines and into some schools in Iowa and elsewhere. We’ll meet some principals working to improve their schools.
The focus of the program is the challenges facing principals working to help teachers teach and students learn - better. Here's a look at how a new program is working in one Iowa School in Tiffin. It’s called the School Administration Manager project – referred to as SAM or SAMS.
Bright school buses contrast with the early morning rain as the day begins at Clear Creek Amana Middle School. Principal Brad Fox helps direct traffic. Jody Bandy, the school’s Administrative Facilitator, is also helping with early morning logistics. The 350 sixth through eight grade students are beginning their second week of school at a new location. The move, into what was previously the high school, has required both Fox and Bandy to spend time on managerial tasks.
However, under normal conditions, the goal is for Principal Fox to primarily focus on instruction and learning, not logistics. The school district is participating in an Iowa Department of Education program aimed at strengthening the principal's educational and leadership role.
Brad Fox, Principal: "Three years ago we were presented a program known as the SAM program. School Administrative Manager and when we looked at the program we thought you know we're really doing many of the things that that program is all about in terms of the goal is to make the principal the instructional leader in the school."
The first step in the SAMS program was a week-long evaluation of Principal Fox to assess how he used his time. Given that Fox was already beginning to focus on becoming the school's instructional leader, the results of his evaluation were surprising.
Brad Fox, Principal: "My data was not very good. I was about 18% instructional that week and about a little over 80% of my time was in management things."
Over the past three years that data has changed dramatically
Brad Fox, Principal: "At the end of last year, clearly 50% of my day was instructional, and some days there were days when I was probably 75% of my day was instructional."
Training for the SAMS program is provided by The Iowa Department of Education. However, the school district is responsible for providing someone to handle the managerial tasks.
Paula Vincent, Superintendent: "In our particular situation we really took the staff that we had in place. So, the resources really were not additional but the type of work and trying to focus the work I think is the benefit that we gain from going through the training with the school administrative manager project."
"The hypothesis is that it frees up that time of the building principal to truly be observing instructions, helping team teach, having feedback with teachers, helping them reflect on their practice, and that's what we're striving for."
As the school’s Administrative Facilitator, Jody Bandy works very closely with Principal Fox. Bandy’s responsibilities range from building operations to the welfare of the student body.
Jody Bandy, Administrative Facilitator: "Most of my day is spent making sure that it's safe and it's a positive environment throughout the whole school. That's the biggest thing that I see myself doing."
With more time to devote to instructional leadership, Principal Fox can help implement the educational strategies the district has set for itself.
Brad Fox, Principal: "Here really I think pretty much everyone would know the three things that we're really trying to do. We're really trying to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum for every kid every class. The other thing is we really focus on the leadership and distributing leadership. We want everyone to feel like they can step up and be a leader. And then lastly which I think is probably the most important goal is personalizing the learning for every student. And we've seen some really nice gains in terms of our student data."
Paula Vincent, Superintendent: "When we look at the student's that we've actually had in the system for at least a year we see a very steady trend line of improvement in reading, mathematics, and science across our entire district."
Students have been meeting the goals that have been set, but schools don't control every factor that affects learning.
Judy Jeffrey, Director Iowa Department of Education: "There are other factors that are parents and communities and faith based communities have to help us with, but we are looking at the factors that we control as an educational institution."
This project is made possible by The Wallace Foundation-a source of ideas for improving school leadership. Visit www.wallacefoundation.org/principalstory.