As a teenager, my encounters with the principal were limited to his telling me I’d be suspended if I didn’t take my nose ring out.
So when I was invited to be Principal for a Day at Hillcrest High School, I thought I’d be sitting behind a grand oak desk and making phone calls to parents who needed to come pick up their misbehaving children. I was wrong on all counts.
Principal Ronald Jones walks the halls of the building and cracks jokes with the students, cheers them up when they look downtrodden and says the occasional, “Boy, what did I tell you about pulling up those pants?” The thing is though, he knows their names – the good and the “bad” ones, who don’t really seem that bad.
The day started with Jones presenting a PowerPoint on Spot Observation Rubrics school administration officials perform after stepping into teachers’ classrooms. Jones gives teachers grades based on performance and their ability to show how their students can demonstrate what they’ve learned – called “DOL” for short.
The purpose of all this is to stay in line with Superintendent Mike Miles’s Destination 2020 plan. The plan calls for eight different key efforts, from improving the quality of instruction to revamping the Department of School Leadership and its function.
If they succeed, by 2020, 90 percent of all DISD students will graduate on time and 80 percent of students will enter college, the military or be “career ready” straight from high school.
We spent the whole day walking in and out of classrooms – all with open doors, per the new rule – and found students engaged by either writing on personalized whiteboards or standing and sitting based on if they believed a fellow classmate found the correct answer.
“Let’s be honest,” I said. “Does this create extra paperwork and bureaucracy that gets in the way of teachers actually teaching?” He doesn’t think so. Jones says it’s good to have succinct policies for teachers and administrators to follow to stay in line with the goal of bettering Dallas schools.
At one point, a group of math teachers filled out worksheets on how their objective for the day can make sense and resonate with students who wonder, “Why do we need to know this?” The worksheets didn’t prove easy.
Throughout the day Jones takes notes on how well teachers engage their classrooms.
Later, at a reception to thank the businesses and participants who signed up for the daylong event, I snuck away from my principal and quizzed a couple others. “Do you guys really walk around that much?” My feet were swollen and sore at this point. “Yes,” the principal chuckled and mentioned a few male participants he saw wearing Italian shoes. “You can’t be wearing those kind of shoes to work.”
With all the changes sweeping through Dallas schools right now, Miles should add another item to his to-do list – give all principals a pair of New Balances to wear to work.