Leading an organization, no matter how big or small, takes more than just innovation and inspiration, it takes dedication. A leader must be willing to put in the hours, ensuring the entire team is committed to the organization’s vision.
Florida has the best principals in the nation, displaying the kind of leadership their schools and communities consistently need. It’s no secret that the past few years have been challenging as our state has raised its standards and expected more from its students. However, I know from my own experience as an elementary and high school principal that a productive, positive culture starts at the top.
When I became principal of Reddick-Collier Elementary school in Marion County, Florida had not established the school grading system. But when the first year grades were released, we were an “F” school. Yet we had many talented teachers and supportive administrative staff who deeply cared about students. We had great human capital, but we weren’t skilled at how to use the data to improve student achievement.
It would have been easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed with the obstacles facing our school. But instead we pushed through, just as many of Florida’s principals do every day. We established school-wide expectations that supported our school’s vision, giving us tangible ways to attain student success. In one year, we were able to jump up two grades because every teacher, support staff and administrator was committed to the same vision.
Principals set the tone for the school. In addition to leading their staff, it is crucial that they establish a school culture where academics come first and where involvement and accessibility are key. As many of you know, students and teachers perform best when they feel supported by their principal.
I’ll never forget the day one of our teachers came to me needing help to encourage a student to finish his reading assignment. That day I went to her classroom and let the student know that I would read the assigned novel and take the quiz if he would do the same. The whole class was caught up in the fun. It is this type of involvement that principals do every single day and it makes such a difference in our schools.
It was my belief that students would be more interested in learning if I showed more interest in their lives and extracurricular activities, including athletic events. So many Florida principals are already going the extra mile to motivate students to reach their goals, and it shows.
Their support of classroom instruction continues to move our state forward and better prepares students for successful paths to college and careers. I truly appreciate all they do each day to empower their staff, inform parents and inspire students to work toward a brighter tomorrow.
Pam Stewart, Commissioner of Education