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My View • PPS renews efforts to get input on principals

Most district principals do amazing work balancing demands, passions
by: L.E. BASKOW, Many of the people who came to a public meeting at Jefferson High School several weeks ago came in support of a former Roosevelt principal who was re-assigned away from the school. Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith writes that the Tribune’s coverage of the issue painted an incomplete picture of how principals do their jobs.

How many of us could do the job of a principal? Shuttling between hall duty, meeting with parents, coaching and hiring staff, strategizing how to raise up struggling students and keep all inspired, organizing school events, bonding with local business leaders and keeping the school going with less money. That's just part of a normal day for a school principal.

Principals are, for many people, the public face of leadership in Portland Public Schools, and they have one of the hardest jobs in our city.

The Tribune's recent article 'The Principal Problem' (May 28) highlighted how strongly school communities feel about their leaders - but it missed the mark in focusing on flashpoints and painting an incomplete and undeserved picture, at times using anonymous sources.

The article underplayed how well our school leaders manage the demands of their jobs across our 85 school buildings and respond to the passionate, but often conflicting, views about how schools should be run.

I recognize that our principals are critical to the success of our students - your children - and our schools. That's why our school district is redoubling its efforts to incorporate community input in the principal selection process.

At Madison High School, school district leadership spent months collaborating with teachers and administrators at the school to determine how the school should be structured. But we did not loop back and consult the larger school community, as would usually have been our practice, to gain additional feedback on the qualities needed in Madison's leader. We're going back and having those conversations now. We have also formalized our steps for incorporating staff and community input into our leadership decisions at all our schools.

It's also why principals receive regular and thorough performance evaluations. Probationary principals are evaluated every year for three years and then every other year afterward. They complete a self-evaluation and are extensively evaluated by their school district supervisor. I also value the concept of peer evaluations, in which a range of people familiar with a person's work give feedback on their performance. My staff is already working on incorporating this approach for evaluating me and senior level district leaders.

The critical role of principals and our schools is also why I have overhauled our central administration and put in place a new leadership structure that will more directly support principals, teachers and their school communities.

That means fewer layers between the superintendent's office and our schools - and fewer layers for students, families and staff to navigate when they need assistance. The reorganization saves the school district $1 million and represents a net loss of 10.5 positions - most at the highest pay levels.

But we are making these cuts and focusing our resources to put our students and schools first and to be more responsive to the principals who run them each day. So when you see them - whether supervising recess or leading a school assembly - I hope you will tell them the words they deserve to hear: Thank you.

Carole Smith is superintendent of Portland Public Schools. She lives in Northeast Portland.