Confessions of an Urban Principal/Good Stories
by Frank Murphy
Installment 5 of 8
“ Jordon’s speech was beautiful!” Ellen said.
The two of us were sharing our impressions concerning yesterday’s ceremony.
“You must have felt so proud. He thinks highly of you.”
Earlier, several other teachers had made similar comments to me. Not understanding what they were talking about, I just nodded my head. Jordon had presented me with a plaque on behalf of the eighth grade class during the closing exercises. He addressed the audience before he handed this memento to me. I wasn’t able to make out what he was saying during his presentation. When he started speaking, I was standing behind him on the stage. The distorted feedback from the sound system garbled his words. Whatever he said must be what my colleagues were referring to today. I made a call to Lori Odum, and asked her if she had a copy of his speech. She promptly sent me a copy. I reviewed it in the privacy of my office. Tears welled up in my eyes as I began to read his heartfelt sentiments.
“Mr. Murphy, on behalf of the Meade School Class of 2005, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for everything that you have done for us. We look at you in many different ways. Some of us see you as a principal. Some of us see you as a father figure. Some of us see you as a friend. Some of us see you as a storyteller. No matter how we look at you, you have been a good person to us from the beginning.
As a principal, you changed our school for the better… As a father figure, you have opened your door to us… As a friend, you put your trust in us… As a storyteller you love to read stories to us kids. You also like to tell personal stories about your life to the older kids. Thank you, Mr. Murphy”.
His message was personal and genuine. I was proud to be the recipient of his compliments. But I also was embarrassed by the public nature of this declaration of gratitude and appreciation. I have never been particularly comfortable standing in the limelight. Even here in this book I hesitate to share Jordan’s words of phrase. I didn’t write this journal in order to talk so much about me as I did to offer an insight into the life of a school principal. I’d much rather keep his remarks to myself. But in order to provide a balanced view of school leadership, the good as well as the bad should be included in the story of the principal. To know that you have a made a positive difference in a child’s life is the greatest reward that an educator can receive. To pass the scrutiny of your students’ evaluation is as good as it gets. It is important for all educators to keep this thought in mind as we suffer through the daze of school reform.
Meade School, like any other school, plays a large part in the lives of the children we serve. Our staff works hard to make Meade a good place for our children to be. The impact of poverty touches on every aspect of our school environment. Its effects can be observed through many different indicators. A large number of our students receive low scores on standardized tests. This has long been the case. A constantly changing cast of district leaders insist that our students’ scores must rapidly rise in order to prove the staff of the school is doing a good job. If this doesn’t occur, then heads will roll. We are constantly being told that rising student test scores are the only proof that will define us as effective educators. This we are told is real accountability.
Accountability is the mantra of No Child Left Behind. For schools like Meade, this is high stakes. If we don’t produce, we will be punished. The leadership and staff of our school will be changed. Our school might be converted to a charter school. In the worst case scenario we will be closed. The pressure resulting from the possibility of these sanctions is intense. In the face of these unattractive prospects, we can be tempted, as many schools have done, to focus our limited resources on working with just the children who we think can achieve proficient scores on the state test. If using our resources in this way helps us to make Adequate Yearly Progress, we will get the Deputy Slides of our world off our backs. But to do so is to forego the needs of our most challenged children such as Arthur and Gordon. Focusing only on the “almost proficient” would mean that schools would abandon too many children like Arthur and Gordon. To leave them behind in order to accomplish “so-called” Adequate Yearly Progress is reprehensible. I will not be a participant in any school reform strategy that doesn’t serve all of my students well.
At Meade, I along with my like-minded colleagues, stubbornly persist in doing what we believe is best for our children. This stand may cost me my job. And at times, I must confess, I wonder if my stubbornness concerning these issues defies common sense. I struggle with this thought. If I am removed as the principal of my school then I won’t be able to help any of my children. I would be less than honest if I said that this thought doesn’t worry me.
During such moments, I consider the prospect of compromising my beliefs in order to protect myself. But then I realize that I don’t want to be a person who forsakes doing what is right in order to obtain the “right results”.
These are hard days in which to be a principal. It is especially difficult to be the principal of a low scoring poor school. It is the leaders of the most challenged schools in our society who are taking the worst beating in the No Child Left Behind blame game. I persist with this work in order to help children like Jordon to succeed. I truly appreciate his gratitude. If only the reformers who claim that they are fighting for the civil rights of all children, could see what he sees.
I am not yet done. For my teachers, students and parents, I shall continue on with this work regardless of the ruthless nature of school reform. I’ll be back in September.