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Opinion / Storytellers

What is a Recovering Principal?

Car in park, deep breath, let the day begin…

Yes, that’s me! Mascot in the parking lot!

Greeted by my custodian with an update of the daily damage caused by outsiders accessing a vulnerable campus, graffiti on the walls, drug paraphernalia on the playground, no sub coverage due to the shortage, deep breath, IEP meeting starting at 7:45 a.m., check the security cameras, contact the police department to come and investigate, deep breath, parent urgently needing to meet, and a big smile wishing students a wonderful day during morning assembly, deep breath.

That was a typical morning in my life as a Principal. I had attended a couple of the best educational leadership programs, according to the 2003 US News and School Report: The University of Wisconsin-Madison, where the nationally recognized faculty and researchers wrote the texts on school leadership, curriculum, and instruction. On Wisconsin!The University of Southern California with emphasis on urban education and where professors were the practitioners that led the way transforming some of our most challenging schools that would impact communities for the better. Fight On!

And although I was best prepared to become a transformational leader, read all the books, mentored by some of the most notably best and ground-breaking administrators, and took a Facebook survey in hopes to find some decompressing after work humor that said I was a Principal just like Joe Clark in the movie “Lean on Me,”  I was not prepared for the retaliation that would follow the great strides that would be made when transforming a historically low-performing school.

Looking back at the school that once was and is now, I am thankful for the relationships made with my faculty, staff, and families that joined me in chipping away at a school that had so much untapped potential.

I think of my staff member that went from being a glorified translator to my wing woman in rallying families to engage in their child’s education, cultivating relationships, educating them on the landscape of today’s educational expectations and which would later exponentially grow the PTA participation from 3 parents to a 12 parent Board who I called my “Mama-fia” for their newly developed advocacy for a quality school and an average of 75 parents at every parent meeting plus 98% parent participation during my last year’s trimester conferences.

I think of the community partners that I begged for grant opportunities so that my school would have access and be afforded the resources and opportunities customary to schools where parents had the financial resources to provide. As a result, we were able to enrich the campus with relevant after school programs in Visual and Performing Arts, Ballet Folklorico, Robotics and in-school resources such as a math software program that proved that our English Language Learners were capable of understanding rigorous math problems, and how could I forget purchasing tricycles. What’s a Kindergarten experience without TRICYCLES?!  To this day, I can say that I have an extension to my family because that’s what I wanted my campus to feel like, a home with lots of families that I continue to support from afar because that’s the greatest reward of being an educator, the lifelong relationships. Just ask my Kindergarten teacher who still sends me letters and “likes” my posts on social media.

While the Principalship was a professional dream come true, what I was experiencing was outweighing the priorities that you need to transform a school and the beginning of a series of ailments would be signs that I was wearing myself thin, living with high blood pressure and facing rapid burnout.

I would begin to set goals to find a physical and mental balance, but the guilt of putting me first was defeated every day because I would see progress in my students knowing that challenging the status quo came at a price.

My preparation as a visionary, community builder, shaper of school culture, and instructional leader would have to be redirected by taking the risk to leave the stability of a day-to-day job in pursuit of opportunities that would allow for me to continue the good fight in a non-traditional way.  While I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish as a Principal, my new title as a Recovering Principal gives me the freedom to make an impact in education from the outside where I can support my peers who serve in high-need schools with those areas that do transform our schools and an understanding of the multiple barriers that hinder progress.

For breakfast, I had a bagel with cream cheese, red onion, and a cup of coffee.

Author: @kalimrayburn

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