As I wrote in one of my first blogs for FreshSchools, the turnover rate for Principals is disturbingly high. Many don’t even make it past two years. Being a parent, I’ve heard grumbles about the “administration” for years in various schools. I had my own personal gripe last year which brought me to my knees. I decided I wanted to know what it’s like on the other side. So, I interviewed our brand new principal at my children’s elementary school. His name is Dr. Alberto Hananel and he is a lovely, soft- spoken man who made time for me so I could get a feel for what it’s like at the top.
My first question for him is whether a kid should be Principal for the day.
“Absolutely. I don’t have a problem with that. If it’s for a fundraiser and it builds community spirit. Why not? But I’d have to warn the student, it can be lonely at the top.”
He smiles. Lonely at the top, people.
“Most folks do not realize what it takes to be Principal. Most of the time, it’s exhausting.”
Dr. Hananel goes on to say that principals have to deal with a multitude of characters and personalities from parents, teachers, students and even neighbors.
“There’s this neighbor who is relentless. She complains about the carpool situation, the noise, the parents who park partially on the lip of her driveway. She calls daily.”
Apparently, this neighbor moved into the hood 20 years ago and has been infamous for being a perpetual complainer. She is on a mission to get all the side streets PERMIT PARKING ONLY. That way, no parent could ever park by the school and walk their child in. Um…lady…I know it must be a drag to live right by a school but guess what…YOU LIVE RIGHT BY A SCHOOL. Since the school has been in operation since 1955, you knew full well it was here when you decided to buy into the hood.
My blood pressure shoots up and I’m not even the one getting the phone calls.
“But it’s important to have an open door policy…with everyone. It’s important to be a good listener and be approachable, compassionate and…patient. It really is a virtue”.
During a Kinder “coffee with the Principal”, one Mom spoke up about seeing the kids all swarmed around the new principal during recess. “You’d think he was Justin Bieber or something,” she whispered to me.
“I love my interactions with the kids. It’s my most precious time.”
Dr. Hananel has implemented a “word of the week” game with all the students. The children learn the word from their individual teachers and then they must trek him down (during recess or lunch) and give him the correct spelling and meaning of the word. They must also use it in a sentence. If they succeed, the students get a treat. That’s a lot of treats the good Principal must buy. He gets a gleam in his eye when he speaks about it.
“It’s my one-on-one time with the kids. I don’t get too many opportunities. Some children struggle with it, but they are determined and eventually, they get there. It’s pretty cool.”
Observing this new principal, he seems so unfazed, so calm and collected. What rattles him, I wonder…
“I ALWAYS have first-day-of-school jitters. Even after being an administrator for 16 years. I never sleep well the night before in anticipation of the new job, new school year.”
Dr. Hananel was an Academic Dean at a middle school in Mexico City. I ask him if he thinks we should teach our kids Spanish in elementary school here in California?
“I’m a strong believer in bilingual education (more specifically dual immersion programs)- students become not only bilingual but bi-literate which is much more important. We are the only country in the world that does not promote bilingualism. It’s a shame since most people have roots from outside the country. I speak three languages and my parents speak six each.”
How is the education system different here vs. Mexico?
“There is a national (federal) education system in MX (Secretaria de Educacion Publica) National Secretiate of Education – it dictates what will be taught and provides books for all…so if a child lives in the North and moves to the South due to the terrible drug situation, he/she will practically be on the same page as his/her peers. Unfortunately, public education teachers are paid very poorly. They go on strike all the time which affects everyone.
As I speak with the Principal, he gets called away for a meeting with the Instructional Leadership Team. After that, he wants in on the classroom. As busy as he is, he tells me he tries to get into the classrooms as much as possible.
“I get a buzz from seeing the teaching and learning that is going on”.
“Dr. H, you’re a total nerd ball.”
“Yes I am.” He laughs.
“But, come on” I nudge. “Don’t you ever want to be the Wizard behind the curtain?”
“Nah. My dad once told me something that I try to remember every day. People don’t work for you, they work with you.”
And with that, he’s off.