The Secrets of a Principal Who Makes Things Work

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One columnist?s idea of a good principal:

A good principal has been a teacher.

While Ivy Leaguers in their 20s can now become principals, Jacqui Getz, 51, the new principal of Public School 126, a high-poverty school in Chinatown, came up the old way. This is her third principal position, but before that, she was a teacher for nine years and an assistant principal for four. It?s hard for principals to win over teachers if they haven?t been one.

?You?re the principal,? Ms. Getz said, ?but you have to know how a teacher feels and how a teacher thinks.?

A good principal feels at home in a cafeteria filled with 800 children eating rubbery scrambled eggs for breakfast.

At Table 510, Ms. Getz discussed ?Maniac McGee? with Beckie Zheng; at Table 500, Hula-Hoops with Annika Dalland. At Table 220, Ms. Getz spotted a second grader, eyes closed, resting his head on his arms, and brought him a box of Raisin Bran with a carton of milk. ?You need to eat,? she whispered.

A good principal has her own style.

?He wants to meet you,? said a third-grade girl, who was holding her little brother?s hand. From where the children stood, Ms. Getz must have looked like the Eiffel Tower. She wears heels because she believes tall principals have an edge. As she walks, her bracelets clink, her heels click. Before they see her, students know Ms. Getz is coming around the corner.

A good principal protects her teachers from the nonsense.

?I want my people to feel I have their backs,? she said.

Last year, the city?s Education Department put into effect its 32-variable equation that looks like a chemical configuration for rocket fuel but is actually a formula concocted to rate teachers based on student test scores.

It was degrading for teachers, and Ms. Getz has signaled she is not a believer. ?How can this formula tell me about the teacher in front of me?? she said. Under state regulations, test scores can count for up to 40 percent of a teacher?s evaluation. ?These tests are so unreliable; I wouldn?t count them 10 percent, 8 percent, 1 percent,? she said. ?You don?t want teachers feeling belittled; you want them to keep their dignity so they can be at their best.?

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