From supporting student engagement and staff mental health to deciding how to welcome freshmen and how many classes students should take, high school principals in Washington state face unique challenges this fall. As schools return remotely for many districts and racial equity discussions continue, principals have numerous responsibilities to their students and staff, making professional development opportunities especially valuable right now.
In mid-August, more than 20 Washington high school principals gathered to kick off the two-year Chief Education Officer (CEO) Network program, which provides professional and leadership development to a cohort of high school principals from across the state. The group reflected about the upcoming school year and the importance of racial equity. They also heard presentations about digital literacy and school reopening data.
A partnership between the Association of Washington Principals (AWSP), Partnership for Learning, Washington Roundtable and Challenge Seattle, the CEO Network will bring principals together this school year for monthly virtual workshops and offer access to online curriculum developed by AWSP.
“Our goal is to create a cohort of principals that can lean on each other and support each other,” said Scott Friedman, associate director for AWSP.
The group shared back-to-school plans, including their concerns and excitement. Strategies that schools are employing include welcoming ninth-grade students through a virtual orientation and scheduling one-on-one sessions with each staff member.
Dr. Cathy Woods, Director of College and Career Readiness & On-time Graduation at Everett School District, said staff members are creating introductory videos for students, as part of an ongoing effort to provide an enhanced online experience. Julie Lee, principal at Shadle Park High School in Spokane, discussed the social emotional learning practices used at area schools that include using an emoji system to check in with students each day.
Friedman led principals in a discussion about equity and the importance of being prepared to lead conversations about racial equity with staff and students, and engage the administrative team around racial literacy.
Sea.Citi shared their experiences with setting up the volunteer-led Family Tech Support Center with Seattle Public Schools and how they are planning the next iteration this fall.
Sea.Citi found that households who live in poverty in Seattle are five times more likely to not have internet access. Households whose primary language is not English are two times more likely to not have internet access at home.
Findings included that technology tools from the district were often unfamiliar to families, and content delivery platforms led to unexpected barriers. Families experienced issues with access, setup, hardware, school applications, communication, general applications, not having a computer, and connectivity.
This fall, the Tech Support Center will continue to assist parents and guardians as they navigate being allies and educators for their children during this time.
Kinetic West also discussed school reopening data, including the importance of family communication and social emotional learning during this time of crisis and bereavement that many families are experiencing.
The CEO Network will continue meeting each month to develop their leadership – which could have an impact on Washington’s more than 1.1 million public school students. A strong principal is the single most important factor in whether a school can attract and keep high-quality teachers, according to research cited by the Education Policy Center. If strong leaders create strong schools and strong students, a tenet on which the Association of Washington School Principals is based, it pays to invest in developing strong leaders.
We will be following the CEO Network principals’ experiences as the school year goes on, so please stay tuned for blog posts throughout the school year.