When I was growing up, getting sent to the Principal’s Office meant you were in big trouble. The Principal, at least in most students’ minds, was a stern man or woman who sat in a big chair behind an even bigger desk who yelled and passed out punishments. You did not want to go see the Principal. Maybe this was perception, or maybe it was true in some cases, but it was the perception nonetheless.
Last week I spent a "Day in the Life" at Conway Junior High with their newest Assistant Principal, Preston Echols. Mr. Echols is one of 4 Assistant Principals on the CJHS Campus. I am happy to report that this old school perspective could not be further from the truth for Mr. Echols. Positive, energetic, and completely approachable, Mr. Echols doesn’t spend much time behind his desk. (which is not very big!) What he does is constantly and creatively build relationships with students in this self-described "best job he’s ever had."
We started off the day doing morning duty on Duncan street. If you haven’t experienced morning traffic in front of one of our schools, you might not know what I am talking about when I say, he risks his life each morning to keep our students safe! There are lots of parents, as well as bus drivers, all converging on one street at the same time trying to get kids to school on time. Mr. Echols, along with our School Resource Officers, does a great job directing the traffic. He also greets the parents and students with a smile, wave, high five, etc. Every single morning, he is out on the street doing this. I love the consistency he shows in the lives of these students.
Mr. Echols and all the other Assistant Principals also do lunch duty for all THREE lunches at the Junior High and after school bus duty outside. They stand in the hallways between classes talking to students and teachers. This provides a "skeleton" for their day, I suppose. But it’s what they do in between, that is most significant. It’s hard to even summarize all that they do but I wanted to try.
They are coaches. Each Assistant Principal evaluates a group of teachers for their Teacher Evaluation each year. I tagged along with Mr. Echols as he did several informal "walk throughs" with his teachers, completing an informal evaluation form with feedback for them. He praised them for good things he saw they were doing in their classrooms, emailing them his notes.
They are investigators. When an incident happens involving students, they have to figure out what actually happened. They have to track down everyone involved and resolve it. This takes time and patience and attention to detail.
They are problem solvers. The Assistant Principal is often the "go to" person for teachers if they need to resolve an issue with a student or parent. They have to be creative in finding solutions where everyone can feel satisfied with the resolution.
They are mediators. In a targeted effort called #weareone, Conway Junior High has decreased the number of physical altercations on their campus by nearly 40 percent in the last year. A huge component of this program is work on the part of the Assistant Principals to have relationships with the students and build open lines of communication to talk things out before they escalate to fighting.
They are encouragers. Being in junior high is tough. Any parent will tell you that this age is a very hard time for these students. The Assistant Principals talk with students about all kinds of issues. They encourage them to keep their grades up. They help them navigate social situations. They talk about making good choices- in and out of school.
They handle discipline. Because students do still get sent to the Principal’s Office. We saw several in my "Day in the Life." But perhaps more importantly students get called into the Principal’s office. Note the distinction. Sometimes a student is sent there by a teacher because he/she has done something wrong, and that needs to be addressed by the administrator. But sometimes, a teacher, staff member or even a parent asks the administrator to talk with a student before anything happens. This conversation can change a life. And it does.
In one conference, a mother got emotional, even wiping away tears, describing how the school (and the administrative staff) was treating her daughter after an incident.
"I just can’t believe how much you guys care for my daughter and all these things you are doing for her. It really means so much that you would do these things. I know you truly care for her."
Every time Mr. Echols saw a student in a discipline matter, he called the parent. Many times, he allowed the student to explain to them what had happened. He and the other Assistant Principals are working toward a bigger goal than just simple punishments. They are working on building up young men and women who will be successful productive citizens. They want to partner with parents. It’s amazing what happens when the school and parents get on the same page.
They are advocates. If I had to describe the role of an Assistant Principal in one word, that’s what I would say. They spend their day advocating for others. They advocate for the school when people don’t understand why an assignment is given or a decision is made. They advocate for a teacher when parents jump to conclusions or a student makes a bad choice in the classroom. They advocate for parents when they can’t get a straight answer from their kids, or they need consistency or "back up" while their kids are at school.
But perhaps most importantly, they advocate for the students with parents, their peers, their teachers, and more. The job of an Assistant Principal, like all school personnel, is to put students first. And they do. During our day, I watched Mr. Echols as he was thrust into situations I can only describe as heartbreaking. Students who made poor choices in an instant that have consequences that could last their entire lifetime. Parents who need to be involved with their child that cannot be bothered to listen to what is going on. At different times during the day the Assistant Principal can take on the role of social worker, surrogate parent, counselor, and more.
By 4:00 p.m. I was overwhelmed with all that Mr. Echols had dealt with in just one day, especially the situations where there is only so much that any one person can do or control in regards to the choices of others. Yet he still had a smile on his face and a passion in his heart to keep fighting for these students. This "Day in the Life" opened my eyes to what kind of a "fight" our Assistant Principals and Principals district-wide really are facing each day as they advocate for our students. It broke my heart to see the odds that are often stacked against our kids in their lives. But our administrators aren’t letting anyone go down without a fight. Their pursuit of this fight is what their days as Assistant Principals are really all about.
Heather Kendrick is the Communication Specialist for Conway Public Schools. Contact her at (501) 450-4800. For more information, log onto www.conwayschools.org.