Friday, November 20, 2009

Principal for a day in retrospect

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to shadow Pete Garcia, Principal at K. White Junior High School in Mission, Texas, for a day. This was a part of the school district's Principal for a Day. The event invites people from the community to shadow a principal from the various campuses in the district. Participants may spend the day at an elementary, junior high, or high school.

Before being a part of this event, I wrote down some preconceptions. After the experience, I find that I did learn some things.

Let me first go over some details about the experience.

Kenneth White Junior High School serves children from 6th to 8th grades. In total, the school has a little bit over 960 students, 65 teachers, and 37 other staff. The principal, Pete Garcia, has been the head of the school for thirteen years, to his own surprise. He expected to have moved on before five years. He found that he loves his job and has no intent to change.

Mr. Garcia has the support of his staff, who have had long careers at the same school. He has seen their careers progress over the years; they remain loyal to him and the school. This is a good thing to see. You can often tell how good a leader somebody is by how loyal his employees are.

We started the day with hall monitoring, making sure that students flowed smoothly into their classes. Then, we had the pledge of allegiance, which he conducted over the school's PA system. We finished announcements over the school's video system. The students saw us on the televisions in their classrooms.

Mr. Garcia printed out a copy of his schedule to give me an idea of what to expect for the day. He was pretty much booked solid. His first appointment was a pre-conference with one of his math teachers who would undergo a class observation in the coming days. Mr. Garcia prefers to go over what his teachers will do and what they can expect during the observation. Upon inquiring, he also likes to follow up with another meeting after his observation to help his teachers improve.

After that, Mr. Garcia's Administrative Assistant came in for a morning meeting. They meet at least a couple of times per day to go over what school business needs to be done and what has already been done. Afterwards, he caught up on emails. We discussed how email has changed the way principals communicate with their staff. It is much easier for teachers and principals to coordinate now that there are computers in the classroom.

Later that morning, we had a meeting to plan for upcoming events like testing, Thanksgiving dinner, charity work, and other projects. This was just one group of staff; the principal meets with different groups every day. It quickly became apparent that a big part of his job is information management. Leading several meetings a week, there is obviously plenty of preparation that goes into each meeting. In my observation, Mr. Garcia draws from his experience to probe and ensure that his staff think their plans through so that no detail is overlooked.

Everything from the production of report cards, scheduling for staff to proctor upcoming tests, staffing projects, scheduling the availability of air conditioning, security, and custodian overtime came up during the meeting. If you think planning the Holidays for your family is a lot of work, try planning for a campus of almost 1,000 people. It's the equivalent of a large village or a small town.

I was fortunate that my visit to the campus coincided with Mr. Garcia's monthly lunch with his top staff for the 6 week period. He celebrates their good work by taking them out to lunch, which benefited me in the form of enchiladas at El Patio here in Mission.

After lunch, we supervised the 7th grade during their lunch break and recess. Unlike my own Junior High experience, each grade has separate lunch breaks. I have mixed feelings about having so much structure. I can see the value of it; but, I did appreciate the freedom to run free when I was that age. That's a whole other story.

Later on, we conducted a teacher observation, some walk throughs, and more administrative work before going to the central office for a reception for the other Principal for a Day participants and myself. Overall, we were told that we observed a "slow day" to what they normally experience. Even a slow day seems rather busy.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I would definitely do it again if invited. Next year, if you are interested in participating, contact the Mission CISD director of Public Relations, Craig Verley.

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