Assistant principals nationwide got their day in the sun yesterday (4/27), when the House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution (H. Res. 1131) honoring the contributions of assistant principals to the success of students and supporting National Assistant Principals Week, which occurred from April 18 through April 23, 2010. The resolution also gives, for the first time ever, congressional recognition to the NASSP/Virco National Assistant Principal of the Year program, which recognizes outstanding middle level and high school assistant principals who have demonstrated success in leadership, curriculum, and personalization.

“Assistant principals are the unsung heroes of our schools,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), who helped shepherd the resolution’s passage. “[Assistant principals] serve as a behind-the-scenes link between every sector of the school community. Their job description has expanded significantly over the past decades, and they are the backbone of a school’s administrative team. They interact with students, with teachers, with staff, and with parents on a daily basis to ensure that every child is receiving the best education possible. National Assistant Principals Week recognizes their important contributions.”

During National Assistant Principals Week, state assistant principals of the year, the National Principal of the Year and two National Finalists met on Capitol Hill with their Representatives and Senators to advocate for meaningful education reform in five priority areas: school leadership, improving middle grades education; ending the high school dropout crisis; comprehensive literacy education; and realistic education funding.

For more information on the week’s events and the National Assistant Principal of the Year program, including how to nominate an assistant principal for the 2011 award, please visit www.nassp.org/apoy.

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On Thursday, April 15, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held a roundtable hearing to discuss the importance of preparing, recruiting, and maintaining effective teachers and principals as part of a plan to improve academic performance in the nation’s neediest schools. It was the latest in a series of congressional hearings on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the primary federal K-12 education law.

Witnesses and members of the committee spoke about the need to devise ways to improve the quality of teachers and principals in the nations’ poorest performing schools through various methods, including increased opportunities for training and greater emphasis on performance assessment. “The key challenge is to identify strategies for ensuring that the students who need the most help are being educated by our most effective teachers and principals,” said Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Numerous witnesses described the need for teachers and principals to be provided with opportunities to improve their effectiveness, and proposed strategies to meet this need. Layne Parmenter, Principal of Urie Elementary in Lyman, WY, testified about the challenges facing principals and suggested policies to help them be more effective administrators and instructional leaders. These strategies included giving principals of underperforming schools more autonomy up front rather than firing them and granting greater freedoms to their replacements. Mr. Parmenter also spoke to a need for greater professional development opportunities for principals.

During the roundtable discussion at the hearing, a chorus of support for principal professional development and training broke out among witnesses (see the YouTube video above) when Senator Al Franken (D-MN) highlighted legislation he introduced that would provide current and aspiring principals with professional development, and then place these improved and more effective leaders in high-need schools. The School Principal Recruitment and Training Act (H.R. 4354/S. 2896) would accomplish this by creating a federal grant program that would provide selected aspiring principals with a pre-service residency that lasts for at least one year, combined with focused coursework on instructional leadership, organizational management, and the use of data to inform instruction. Grant funds would also be used to provide mentoring and professional development to strengthen current principals’ effectiveness. Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, spoke about the success of a similar principal residency program at Vanderbilt which has been in effect for the past decade.

The HELP Committee will continue to consider the needs of teachers and principals and increasing their effectiveness as Congress moves towards the goal of improving federal education policy leading up to reauthorization of ESEA.

By Mike Riddile, NASSP, government relations intern.

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