LIMA — When many of us were younger, you were in big trouble when you were sent to the principal’s office, you were in big trouble.
Nowadays a school principal is more likely to come to your classroom, not to hand out discipline but to get to know the students, teachers and staff better.
The role of the principal has changed throughout the years.
A change in style
“It started out years ago as more of a manager, making sure everything was working well in the building, working with the parents, talking to the parents,” said Tricia Winkler, the principal at Unity Elementary School in Lima. “Now we are 100% involved in the classroom. We are instructional leaders. I’m checking lesson plans. I’m in the teacher’s rooms and modeling lessons, like an instructional coach, looking at each individual student’s scores in all of the curricular areas, making sure they’re growing like they’re supposed to with the standards the state gives us, along with managing the finances and hiring and doing observations and evaluations of teaching staff.”
Winkler has been at Unity for that past 16 years, and she’s been in education with Lima schools for the past 25 years, teaching at Jefferson, Lowell and South schools.
John Edinger, the middle school principal at Spencerville schools, was the principal at Delphos Jefferson High School for 11 years. He’s appreciated the different expectations.
“I’ve seen it change really to my comfort of style,” Edinger said. “I say that because I’ve had the earlier years of it which I went into it saying we’re working with kids, but I think the principal role in the earlier days was top-down driven. Now I see it as we’re working collaboratively with our teachers in creating leaders, and we’re the leader of the leaders.”
Jon Burke, principal at St. Marys Memorial High School, is relatively new to the job. He’s been at the job for two years but served as assistant principal at the middle school for four years prior to his promotion.
Burke recently had conversations with Doug Spencer, now an Auglaize County commissioner, and Quint Clark, who was a long-time principal dating back to the 1960s.
“We were just talking about the same thing, comparing the principalship to the ‘60s to what it is today,” Burke said. “Things are actually very similar but how technology has just changed so much and how technology has just made the position so much more accessible, in a good way and in a bad way.
“Like for example, I’ll get text messages; I get emails 24 hours a day. People can text me and call me at any time, especially staff members or community members who know me. The position is that much more accessible than what it used to be. It used to be a community member would actually have to walk into the office, set up an appointment, and then it might not even be that day you get to talk with the principal. It might be a day or two before the principal could get to you and meet your needs. I think that’s changed a lot, and I think partly for the better because you’re getting answers and you’re getting things figured out quicker. But there are those days and those weeks that you do get backlogged on this end in the office with the assistant principal and handling certain situations.”
Dean Brinkman, principal of Kalida High School, has seen the changes at all levels. He started his educational career at Lima Central Catholic High School, teaching social studies for seven years and then becoming the dean of academics at LCC for two years. He was principal at Ottawa Elementary School for five years, and three years ago accepted the job of principal at Kalida High School, overseeing grades five through 12.
“I think the biggest change that I’ve seen is the emphasis on data collection and data analysis,” Brinkman said. “Anymore, administrators make a lot of their decisions based on the data that is out there, whether it be on diagnostic tests in the classroom, looking at the teacher’s diagnostic tests where they see that some of their kids may need additional help in reading and in math or larger scale, and the end-of-course exams, where we get that data back and you can start looking at areas that need reinforcement. I think that’s the biggest trend that I’ve seen over the last 20 years or so.”
Getting out of the office
Building principals frequently have to leave the friendly confines of their office and sometimes have to leave the building.
“I do two walk-throughs a day, every day,” Winkler said. “I do a lot of home visits as well. So a lot of it is working with the parents to make sure they’re aware and they know what’s going on with their students because we can’t do it alone. The parents are very important in this process of looking at the data.”
Brinkman added, “It’s definitely not an office manager. I don’t sit in my office all day handing out detentions and ordering office supplies. It’s much more than that. It’s much more involved. I try to get into every teacher’s classroom every single day. It’s much more of a collaborative effort between all of the stakeholders — the community, the teachers, the students — and I think it’s important that you are visible, that teachers feel that support and you give them the resources that they need to be successful.”
That relationship with parents is also key to the student’s progress and development.
“It’s huge. It’s the most important component,” Winkler said, “the relationship with the staff and the parents and the relationship with the staff and the students. I do probably on an average of five to seven home visits a week. I go out and tell them about their students doing positives, and I go out and we talk about attendance, which is a huge issue, and I do home visits when students miss so many hours,” Winkler said.
Managing your building
One big change is the emphasis on increased security at schools.
“It’s extremely important,” Edinger said. “That’s what we’re here for is the kids and to make sure they’re in a safe environment to begin with, and they want to come to school. That’s one other change I’ve seen from the old to the new. You’re creating and practicing more lock-downs. The technology now to enter and exit the building wasn’t like that back in our days, was it?”
There are still managerial duties, Burke said.
“I would like to say I’m the instructional leader, but the truth is you’re more of a manager in handling operations of the building and making sure you’ve got everything staffed, you’ve got all subs in place, our facilities are in good shape and making sure that everything is the way that we want it,” Burke said. “I’m a liaison for our community is kind of how I see myself. I’m trying to make sure our kids are prepared for after high school and putting programs and classes together that are going to benefit our kids after high school and making sure that the programs and the groups and the resources we have are working together.”
The call of the classroom
Principals certainly miss classroom time too.
“I love my job,” said Burke. “I miss the classroom like crazy. I didn’t get into education to be an administrator. I never thought I would be a principal. I was a middle school math teacher and absolutely loved it, but I started to find myself tackling issues. Teachers were coming to me with situations and saying, ‘What should I do?’ My principal was coming to me with situations and said, ‘Hey from a teaching perspective, what would you do?’ I quickly got involved in the union and became the union president in my third year of teaching, and my superintendent at the time told me you need to go get your principal licensure.”
The ability to help drives some people into becoming a principal.
“I’m a young principaland I know that, but I love what I’m doing because I feel like I’m impacting more kids,” Burke said. “In a classroom, you might have 20-25 kids in your room, and you might see 100 kids over the course of a day. As a principal, you can really put things in place to benefit (the students). I’ve got 700 kids in my building, I can try everything I can to get to know every single one of those kids personally and what can we do to help that kid be successful.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.