Recently, I was doing my usual nightly scroll through Twitter. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to seeing the most ridiculous headlines fly by without giving it much thought. In an instant we decide if something is worthy of our attention, or if we toss it into the never ending pile of “junk” that we don’t care to read. Many of the tweets in my feed are related to education – I follow a myriad of educators that I admire on Twitter. Many of the tweets in my feed are also political – I find it important to try to stay informed. If you’re familiar with the political and educational climate in Kansas, you also know that one cannot talk politics without talking education.
I was a bit taken aback when I came across this article – where Kansas governor candidate Kris Kobach indicated he believes that education in Kansas is top heavy, and schools do not need the amount of assistant principals they currently have. He incorrectly stated that one Wichita high school has 12 assistant principals. A spokesperson later corrected the statement to say that between two Wichita high schools there are 12 administrators, but they stood by the sentiment that this was still too many, and that this was excessive and top-heavy. Kobach claims that more money needs to be spent in the classroom – on teachers salaries and “on the computers and books.” Before I go much further, I think it’s important that I note a couple of things. 1) I do not disagree with the sentiment that more money needs to be pumped into teachers and into resources. We actually agree on this. I think we disagree in how this should happen, but nonetheless, we agree on it. 2) Politically, I’m always evaluating where I stand, reflecting on what’s happening, and try to stay level headed, and use… common sense. I find that common sense is found on both sides of the political divide, and I align myself differently for different issues. I believe in treating others with dignity and respect. I do believe we currently live in a society where extremists on both sides’ main goal is to pit people against one another instead of coming together for commonalities and seeing past the red or blue that too often defines who we are and what we stand for.
Now that I have that out of the way, I want to revisit one quote I can’t get out of my mind from the article I linked up earlier, where Kobach is quoted as saying, “My high school had one assistant principal, and I didn’t know what that guy did.” I’ll be honest here – the fact that he is seemingly basing his opinion of what assistant principals do (or don’t do) on what he observed as a student in high school is a bit absurd. I think I stand for several APs when I say, for those who believe we don’t do anything, if you were to shadow us for a week, day, or even an hour, you just might leave with an appreciation for what we do. I realize that may not ever happen for a number of reasons, so I thought attempting to educate people in the daily lives of assistant principals would be a decent place to start. Mr. Kobach, I have no idea who the assistant principal was when you were in high school, and I have no idea if he was any good at his job, so I can’t speak for him. What I can do, however, is try to paint you a picture of the efficient way schools are run today, and why each AP position is so vital to a school’s success. So, without further adieu, here’s my blog post on, “What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?”
What Does an Assistant Principal Do, Anyway?
Olathe West High School is an amazing place to work. I’m surrounded by hard working educators every single day, and I am very fortunate that I get to call that place home. Part of what makes it such an incredible place is my administration team, composed of my principal, three other assistants, and myself. That’s five total. We are a 5A, soon to be 6A school in one of the largest districts in the state. Within a few years, we will most likely have close to 2,000 students enrolled. For those of you who are new here, Olathe West is in its 2nd year of operation, and we will grow by hundreds of students each year until we reach capacity. Please bear with me as I describe how each of my colleagues contributes to the overall functioning of our school, and how by investing in them, you are also investing in the success of our teachers and our students.
Let’s begin with our assistant principal that oversees all things facilities. Are you too hot? Are you freezing cold? He’s your guy. Is there a leak in the gym? Is there a weird smell in your hallway? You need furniture? You have a work order that needs placed? Do you need to communicate with the custodians but don’t know where to start? Do you need to reserve an area of the building for an event? Need some keys? He will work night and day – literally – to be sure our school is the optimal place for learning to occur, and to make sure our teachers can function in a literal sense while they are here. But that’s not where his responsibilities end. He’s also our SPED administrator, getting paged to the autism room multiple times a day, oversees the CBR (center based resource – think “lifeskills”) program, and works all things SPED. That’s not all, folks. He also is our crisis management guru, running our emergency drills and planning ALICE protocol. He also works with the performing arts departments on scheduling, concerts, and tending to their needs. He is a busy, busy man who works extremely hard to make Olathe West a great place to be. He oversees the junior class, and on any given day is completely tied up with discipline and student support.
Next, I’d like to write about our assistant principal who also serves as our athletic director. Some people who come across this post may think, “Schools need to focus on academics – not sports!” I actually dedicated an entire blog post to this topic, please feel free to read it here. In a nutshell, sports are an integral part to any school, providing outstanding outlets for a great number of students that prepare them for life beyond high school, in a way just as meaningful, if not more for some students, than their experiences in the classroom. I will always support athletics in public education. Just as I will always support performing arts, and other extracurricular activities. I digress. This man works tirelessly to ensure that all of our athletic programs are running smoothly. Not only does he work with parents on an academic front, but he is constantly working with and communicating with parents on an athletic front. Who do parents go to when they don’t get the answer they want from a coach? And he does this with such grace and poise. It takes an incredibly strong person to have this role. And organized. This person has to be organized. Think of just the transportation alone it takes for one sport – he oversees it all. He organizes all aspects of home games, he works to develop the coaches, and most importantly, he works to develop high character kids through athletics. Supporting athletic directors is directly supporting students. Let’s also not forget that this man oversees our AVID program, all field trips that occur in our school, and he teams up with our facilities AP to run our school’s calendar. If there is something that is important to stakeholders, it’s an accurate calendar. Oh, I also need to let you know that he oversees the senior class, not just for discipline, but also working alongside our counselor to help kids graduate from high school. As a former counselor, he is a guru all things college admissions and is an invaluable asset to not only our student athletes, but all students at Olathe West.
Next up, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our assistant principal who also functions as our activities director. He oversees all KSHSAA sponsored clubs and activities (think Cheer, STUCO, Scholar’s Bowl, etc.). He helps students get involved in and create student-initiated clubs. He is also the technology guru, and worked alongside our district’s technology department to roll-out over 1300 MacBook Airs to students, and basically took on the roll of an I.T. guy for the period of about a week and a half, and he does so periodically throughout the year. He runs all of the TV monitors around our building, and manages the content that scrolls on them every day. Our school is set up like a small college campus, and teachers change locations every hour, depending on what they are teaching that day. Our monitors have to be accurate and functional, and he ensures that these things happen. He helped implement two technology-based programs for us to efficiently monitor students this year. He organizes parent-teacher conferences twice a year every year, sets up registration every summer, and any time we have an event at our school, he is organizing it. For example, we have homecoming next week. He’s been working tirelessly with our STUCO sponsors to help ensure it goes off without a hitch. Homecoming, winter formal, prom – if it’s a big event at our school, he is managing all aspects of it. For those of you who are thinking those things are frivolous, think again. These things are the heartbeat of a school, giving kids something to look forward to, garnering school spirit, a sense of community, and a sense of belonging. As we learn more and more about social-emotional needs of students, we know these things are extremely important for the mental and emotional well-being of our students. Oh, also, this guy oversees freshman. I feel like I don’t need to say much more about that, but this is such a big transition year for those kids, and he is the perfect person for that job.
Then there’s me. My gig is that of curriculum and instruction. I work with our principal to create professional development for our staff, which hopefully has a direct impact on our students. I work with our building leadership team on our school improvement plan, striving to see the success of all students. I oversee assessments, which come in seasons these days. I oversee MTSS. For those of you outside of education, MTSS a system for working with students who struggle and implementing interventions to help them find success. At Olathe West, we work every day to make learning relevant and meaningful to students. We are working to move the needle in education towards real-world application, where students leave with the skills they need to be successful in life. We are moving towards a more project based learning (PBL) model, and I attempt to lead our incredible staff to take instructional risks that are beneficial for kids. They’re pretty great – both our staff and our students. I simply try to inspire the learning that occurs in our building, so that we can continue to grow our students every day. I helped implement a positive behavior approach system, to help us reach all students, to understand their social-emotional needs, and to help our negative interactions with students decrease. I oversee the sophomore class, and with over 400 students in this class, any given day I am working alongside students to get them on a path to making better choices.
Besides the different assignments each of us have, there are also a lot of things we do that are alike, working with the students in our grade level. Now, Mr. Kobach, I’d like for you to really take heart to this part of my essay. This is the nitty-gritty work, that I would be willing to guess your assistant principal was doing every day that most kids had no idea he was doing. A lot of adults don’t even know this work goes on every day. Now, please know, each one of us loves this work. We are in no way complaining. But if you don’t know what APs do all day, I really would love to answer that question for you. Here it is. Here is what we are doing, anyway.
We are working daily with the kids who come to us from trauma filled backgrounds. If you didn’t know, kids who come from trauma are more likely to make fight or flight decisions, go into survival mode, and land themselves in our offices.
We work to give backpacks to kids who are using the same torn-up bag from 5 years ago. We are working with community partners to stock our food pantry to help feed students over the weekends and long breaks.
We are working to fight the incredible vaping epidemic that has taken over our youth. Do you know what a Juul is?
We are working to repair relationships between students in conflict. We are taking the phone calls from angry parents, or making really hard phone calls because their student made a poor choice, while still maintaining a positive, or at least a workable relationship between the school and the family.
We are working with our counselors to come up with plans for our students who are struggling socially, emotionally, and academically. We are working with our school psychologist and our social worker to meet the needs of the whole-child. We are contacting law enforcement in the evenings and on the weekends because we believe a student may be at risk for self-harm.
We spend time counseling kids from dropping out of school. We talk to students about their goals, aspirations, and dreams. Sometimes those goals are to simply make it through the day, but hey, we’ll take it and run with it.
We are a safe place for our students to come to, because for every poor choice that landed a kid in our office, we attempt to build a positive relationship so that kid knows they have someone in their corner.
We work with teachers, Mr. Kobach. Did you know I have over 20 teachers on my appraisal caseload this year? This is exciting because I enjoy the appraisal process, but I’m about at capacity time-wise with 20+ teachers up for appraisal this year – just in my departments. Each of us assistant principals oversees departments. Did you know that? Each department has a department chair. When the department chair needs something for their department, they go to their AP. The AP then works with the department chair to problem solve what they need. We try to be widely available to our teachers for support. This can look different on different days. If a student is having a meltdown in a classroom and a teacher needs an administrator ASAP, and someone is in an IEP (which we are responsible for attending), someone is already tied up with discipline, someone is in a meeting, it’s nice to have someone available to come to help immediately. Or what about the chronic issue in a teacher’s 3rd hour and they’d like some advice on how to approach it? I bet you never knew your assistant principal did any of those things every day. I’m just guessing that he didn’t involve you in the appraisal process of teachers or in classroom management issues.
Mr. Kobach, I am far from perfect. I work my tail off to be good at my job, which means I work my tail off for teachers and for students. How about we work out a deal – I won’t try to pretend that I understand everything that you do – because surely I don’t – if you don’t demean the hard work my colleagues and I put in every day. You may have noticed that I didn’t even get into what our head principal does, because, well, I could designate an entire blog post to that as well. He’s one of the hardest working people I know, which hopefully means something to you after reading this blog.
Oh, and also, we do lunch duty every day where our entire student body is at lunch for 50 minutes.
Thank you readers, for giving me a few moments of your time.