Tuesday, September 29, 2009


“Is there some principal of nature which states that we never know the quality of what we have until it’s gone?” Herman Melville

Last year, my children’s school hired a new principal. It was an unusual hire because of her age (under thirty) and lack of experience (Never taught!). But she went to Harvard, so that was a plus to the hiring committee. She certainly looks the part – long, dark, shiny hair perfectly coiffed, immaculate makeup and meticulously dressed. In fact, everything about her is precise.

The school certainly seems to run smoother since she began, though it wasn’t doing too badly before she came. But several interactions have made me uneasy. She’s “nice”, but not “warm”. My children’s school had a reputation for being parent-friendly. We have been encouraged to participate in many ways; done resume screenings, been on hiring committees, joined other committees, and so on. This is all still in place, but something seems different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I went to one of her parent breakfasts. There, I got the sense that she doesn’t welcome feedback.

A school cannot run as a democracy. As a teacher, I know parents can never completely understand what it takes to run a school. As a parent, I know how many different ideas from other parents float around. A principal cannot please everyone. Working for (and being a parent whose children have had) several different principals has made me aware of how important the position is to the health of any school.

This principal’s inexperience has become apparent in the last several months, but she doesn’t yet know it, I’m sure. Her lack of care over students’ classroom placement and lack of response to parent concerns is troubling. Working and being a parent in city schools, I recognize the importance of a high ratio of dedicated parents. Sure, some of them (us) are annoying, but what’s the alternative? As a teacher, I’ve had parents that don’t review homework, come in for conferences, and could care less if their children are misbehaving. Dedicated parents often make for dream students. The more dream students in a class, the better the classroom runs, and the better education for all.

But if the dedicated parents feel undervalued, ignored, then they will seek a school to better meet their needs. Charter schools and private schools are obvious options, but Cambridge also has school choice – parents can just switch schools. And beginning in middle school, two of the schools have intensive studies programs – a tempting option if other parents are pulling their children out of the school and a parent is worried about a high ratio of “problem” kids. I don’t want my children’s school to be part of the negative domino effect.

This principal has gone through a lot of trouble to let parents know what she expects from them. I hope that one day soon she figures out what we need from her.

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