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DR. JAMES R. SCOFIELD, Principal, Northwestern High School: (talking to students) Let’s go, folks.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dr. James Scofield is part of a vanishing breed.
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: Take that thing off your head, son.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He’s a high school principal who loves his job, in spite of dealing with recalcitrant teenagers.
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: Where are you coming from? You know, ladies, I’m talking to you. Where are you coming from? Come over …
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He often works seven days a week, frequently puts in fourteen-hour days. He has to deal with a dizzying array of problems: kids reading at fourth grade level, no money to paint his school, teachers not showing up, and keeping order in a large inner city high school.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What was that all about?
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: Those four girls just reporting to school. We start at 8:45.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At a quarter after 12?
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: At a quarter after 12. And it’s apparent to me that they don’t have any parental permission, no logical reason for reporting at this time. That’s why they mumble. We’ll give them a conference, their parents will come in tomorrow, and we’ll all sit down and discuss this.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And what will you do if the parents don’t get involved?
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: We’ll get involved with them.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Since Scofield took over as principal at Northwestern High School in Baltimore six years ago, the dropout rate has decreased from 18 percent to 4 percent, and the number of kids – has increased. Scofield is a good example of how a strong principal can turn a school around.
Unfortunately, for schools around the country, there are fewer people interested in becoming a principal than ever before, while the pressure to do a better job of educating students continues to build. In Baltimore, 34 of its 180 principals have left in the past two years. That has left the city scrambling for qualified replacements. New York City faced a similar shortage this past fall when it opened schools with 165 principals of 1000 not certified.
The shortage has hit big urban schools the hardest, but it’s a problem nationwide, happening in suburban and rural schools, elementary and middle schools, as well as high schools. Demographics is one factor. Lots of baby boomers went into education and are now retiring. In the next decade 40 percent of the principals now in jobs will retire.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A more fundamental reason is that the principal’s job has become more complex. Gerald Tirozzi is executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
GERALD N. TIROZZI: It’s a job that is very demanding on time, time away from family, and we’re finding across this country that more and more people are really not interested in going into the principal ship. I like to say we have really lost the will. And I think as a nation we have to restore that because leadership is so critical to schools and in particular to our high schools.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Elizabeth Lodal came out of retirement to become the interim principal of the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science & Technology, a prestigious magnate school in Alexandria, Virginia, not the kind of school, it would seem, that would have any problem finding a principal. But in fact the school just concluded a year and a half search. It spent $20,000 in the process using head hunters, consultants, and search committees. After all that, Thomas Jefferson ended up choosing Lodal. She described some of the reasons she thinks people are reluctant to become a high school principal.
ELIZABETH LODAL, Principal, Thomas Jefferson High School: Schools are sitting ducks. We in big high schools have 20 to 50 doors; there’s no way that you can be totally, completely vigilant, and there are a lot of disturbed people, including young people. And we all are trying to structure an environment where they know the kids, where it’s personal, but there is a worry that looms in the back of your head. I think that dealing with difficult students burns people out. I think that dealing with difficult parents burns people out even more rapidly.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Baltimore Principal says he too understands why people don’t want his job.
DR. JAMES SCOFIELD: I feel that a lot of people look at the demand and they can be overwhelming when you look at the number of special interest that you have, that you have to address, church groups, special education — in this school we have 1, 400 children. Each and every one of them has at least one parent. My child is different because my child is different because… And when you look at that sort of thing and say, “not only do I have responsibility for these kids, but I have to make certain that I haven’t run afoul of any laws, that I follow school board procedures. You know, I can see why people don’t want this job.
JULIUS CHERRY, Assistant Principal, Northwestern High School: I’m trying to get some information on Carl; we haven’t seen him for quite a while.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One person who doesn’t want Scofield’s job is his assistant principal, Julius Cherry.
JULIUS CHERRY: Being assistant principal for as long as I have, I’ve seen too many things that I don’t like, and when coupled with the amount of years I have in the system now, it really doesn’t pay. I’m – I think right now I make more than he does.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Scofield, in fact, makes $70,000 a year. It’s a lot less with the number of degrees he holds than Scofield could command in the private sector, but he feels committed to his students, like these in a special reading class. A lot of Scofield’s time is devoted to being his school’s educational leader. In the past, the principal was the titular head of the school, but he or she mostly doled out discipline, paid the bills, and made sure things ran on time. Now, principals have to make sure that teachers stick to the standards and curriculum set by the state, and it is the principal in the end who is accountable for students’ scores on increasingly important standardized exams. In this era of high stakes testing a principal’s job is often on the line.
GERALD N. TIROZZI: A significant number of principals around the country have one-year contracts. This isn’t the high stakes testing, especially on the exit exams in high school, which I think are grossly unfair to high school principals because really what kids do in high school is not only a condition of what they learned in high school, it’s a condition of K-8 education, which prepared them, so they’re feeling a lot of pressure.
JAMES SMITH: (talking to young students) How are you doing? Let’s get our line. Have you had breakfast yet?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: James Smith is principal of Arlington Elementary School in Baltimore. Although he has a less formidable job than Scofield with plenty of hugs to go around, his job is equally demanding, requiring long days. He arrives at 7 AM and frequently spends the night at school.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: How much paperwork is there?
JAMES SMITH, Principal, Arlington Elementary School: Oh, horrendous paperwork. I don’t even think about paperwork until after 4 or 5 o’clock. I don’t even think about going home until around 6 or 7 o’clock at night, and sometimes I don’t go home.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At all?
JAMES SMITH: At all. I’ve spent the night here. Many nights I’ve spent the night – there’s just so much to do.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What in the world could make you so busy that you’d have to spend the night at the school?
JAMES SMITH: Reports; evaluations; audits – the paperwork that takes a lot of concentration and thought making sure that I am aware of the curriculum and that I can read through a section, that you can’t do what a classroom teacher does on a regular basis. I’m a principal. I have four, five different grade levels that I must read and study, and I have 42 staff members.
JAMES SMITH: Do not put your hands on anyone.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Like his counterpart at Northwest High School, Smith spends a lot of time on discipline, in this case suspending a boy who hit another student.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: I have really been astounded with how much of your time is spent on discipline. And I don’t mean really, “well, Johnny talked back to the teacher today,” but weapons, violence.
JAMES SMITH: That’s part of the job that comes with the environment that we live in and the society that we live in today. There is a lot of violence out there, and I wish that when they cross the door sills, they could leave everything outside, but that’s not reality. This is a zero-tolerance school, and we live up to the letter of law.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Both Smith and Scofield told us they often become involved in their students’ home lives. Here, Smith has a session with the mother and aunt of a student caught stealing. As it turns out, problems at home seem to have contributed to the boy’s behavior.
JAMES SMITH: Sometimes I consider when I look at what I’m doing, what… Just something like a minister would be doing. I counsel my parents every day. Yes, I talk about marriage counseling, I talk about how to rear children. I have quite a few grandparents rearing children, and I sit and I listen to the grandchildren… Or to the grandparents talk about their children.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: We asked Elizabeth Morgan, who hires principals for Baltimore City Schools, what happens to schools when dedicated principals like Smith and Scofield become few and far between.
ELIZABETH MORGAN: I will tell you from experience that if you don’t have a strong principal, that school isn’t really going to go very far. The principal really creates a mission and creates a vision. You’re here now, but as the principal I’m telling you I want to take you to there. Our test scores are here, but we’re going to go there.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Gerald Tirozzi sees some positive developments, but the bottom line, he says, is principals need to be paid more.
GERALD N. TIROZZI: Some of the bigger school districts have enough sense to grow their own. They’re developing teachers within their district; they’re giving quality internships and those folks are moving through the ranks. I am not going to suggest that salaries in and of themselves will solve this problem. Unless we look at the salaries of principals we’re not going to get it done.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Teachers have succeeded in getting pay raises in many parts of the country, but Tirozzi said it will take a major public relations campaign to make taxpayers aware of just how much of a vital role principals now play in American schools.