Editor's Note: Jillian Daley is communication specialist for North Marion School District and submits a regular column.
National Principals Month seems like an annual fixture in October, but it's actually a fairly new celebration. Launched in 2009, the tradition is one that already feels embedded in the North Marion School District culture as staff quietly honor local heroes each fall. This year, we sat down with our building leaders to find out what it's like to be a principal. The following is what North Marion principals had to say.
Principal De Ann Jenness loves her role, especially the appreciation the staff and students often show. In fact, she has stacks of memories built over her more than 10 years in the main office, but her favorite one relates to a student who stopped by to ask for help and showed an incredible depth of gratitude years after Jenness offered her support.
"She felt safe enough to come and tell me what was happening at home, and she asked me to stay with her while the investigation was happening," Jenness said of an abuse case many years ago. "She was a freshman, and she came and thanked me every year."
Jenness loves helping all her students. One of the best ways to do that, she said, is by listening. She loves to see students succeed, which, for her, means being happy with who they are as an adult.
"I see the potential in all of them," she said. "Some of them are a little more challenging, and those are the ones I like to take on."
Bill Rhoades, co-principal of teaching and learning, joined North Marion earlier this year. He honored his colleague, saying that he believes that "our high school should celebrate De Ann's steady and supportive leadership over the past decade" during National Principals Month.
Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Mark Sundquist has been in his current leadership position for a scant few months, but he already feels like a part of the community.
"What I like so far is collaborating with the teachers and administrative staff and working together to seek more opportunities to serve the students in the community," Sundquist said.
Principals Tami Badinger and David Sheldon both love guiding and supporting students and watching them grow as people.
One of Sheldon's favorite memories as a principal took place during Outdoor School. One student struggled to engage in classes and to connect with other students. But this student came alive viewing the natural world during Outdoor School, with teachers permitting the student the honor of raising Old Glory high on the flag pole.
"Those are the moments I love, where you see every kid learning and having a positive school experience," said Sheldon, who's in his eighth year as a principal.
Sheldon revels in spending time with the students, demonstrating his groovy moves on the dance floor during the eighth-grade celebration or cheering as a track star crosses a finish line.
Badinger loves the role, too, coming to it late in her career. Badinger, in her fifth year as a principal, said she waited until after her own children had left the nest to try for a principalship because she knew that it would be a huge time commitment.
For her, it's worth every millisecond that she invests, she said. She delights in observing teachers develop into masters in their field, while students transform into confident young adults.
"Leading a school is humbling and exciting! It humbles me to see the amazing feats of my staff working with students every day," Badinger said. "Their goal is the same ... to make sure that students succeed! It's exciting because I get to help elicit and witness positive changes!"
Principal Cory Gaub says that after five years he has discovered that a school leader possesses multiple duties: teacher, nurse, custodian, confidante, caretaker. Conversely, he's come to realize that he cannot be everything to everyone.
What he loves about being a principal is "when I see kids go beyond what they think is even possible for themselves" because his building is a place of growth.
"I think that there's a vibrancy for joyful and rigorous learning," he says. "And I think that there is a community of strong relationships and a desire for us to get better together."
Academics aside, it's the other moments that move him: a student delves into code after school, another steps onstage to perform, while another creates a piece of art. This week, students painted pumpkins as their favorite storybook characters to link hands-on creativity to learning.
"One of the things I'm most proud of in our school is the artwork that the students do," says Gaub, sitting on a bench near a line of decorated gourds as diverse as a glittery blue dragon, a pug pup, and Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia series.
At the brand new primary school, Principal Allison Hunt said she was prepared to guide her team in the tenets of teaching and learning. But Hunt said she was surprised at the extent of the operational tasks in her hands, a wealth of duties that the other North Marion principals also pointed to as challenging to juggle.
"I never knew how much there was to do with the building: reserving space for outside groups, holding fire drills every month, making sure that every classroom has what they need, like air filters," Hunt explained.
That may be one of the hardest parts of the work, but visiting classrooms is the part she cherishes most. She recently visited one room where she listened in as students shared stories they'd crafted on their own real-life experiences, with topics including the simple joy of swimming in a pool.
The other thing Hunt treasures as a school leader is the teamwork-focused nature of her staff.
"Everyone is always so willing to step up and offer whatever support is needed, and it makes it so easy," she said. "Everyone is here for a common goal, to support our students. And I'm humbled by the people I work with every day."
While the month of October has passed, there is time all year to thank a principal. The event is possible because of a collaboration of the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
The idea behind National Principals Month is as a reminder that principals, with support from all the other employees in the building, are critical to students' achievements in the classroom.
With the help of national school organizations, U.S. Reps. Susan Davis and Todd Platz introduced the idea of spending 31 days celebrating principals in 2009, and the federal government turned that resolution into a law.
"One of the principal reasons behind a school's success is often a strong principal," says Davis, D-California. "This is true every day in schools across our country."
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