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The Principal Story

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Get Involved With Education

The Principal Story tells two stories, painting a dramatic portrait of the challenges facing America's public schools — and of the great difference a dedicated principal can make. Tresa Dunbar is a second-year principal at Chicago's Nash Elementary, where 98% of students come from low-income families; in Springfield, Ill., Kerry Purcell has led Harvard Park Elementary, with similar demographics, for six years.

The film follows the two principals over the course of a school year as they strive to provide strong leadership within struggling schools. Here are some steps that you can take to get involved with schools in your own community.

  • Use a screening of The Principal Story to spark facilitated parent-principal or teacher-principal conversations aimed at increasing the quality of communication and cooperation and, ultimately, improving school performance.

  • To reveal basic philosophies about school leadership, develop a set of job interview questions to ask prospective administrators. Share the questions with your district and ask district officials and/or school board members to justify their hires based on candidates' responses to those questions. Request that current administrators post their answers to the questions on school websites.

  • Get involved in your community's schools by attending school board meetings, running for the school board or establishing or participating in a parent-teacher organization (Find your local PTA at ). To get complete profiles of schools in your neighborhood, visit: School Matters.

  • Weigh in on the debates over reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Invite elected officials to a town hall meeting to discuss which parts of the No Child Left Behind Act are working and which need to be changed in order to serve your community better.

  • Find ways to support leadership development in your school district. Create scholarships for teachers who want to attend training programs. Work with schools to develop structures that create opportunities for potential leaders to gain experience. Brainstorm ways for the district's best principals to mentor new principals, for principals to network with peers in nearby districts and/or for principals to take mini-sabbaticals to hone their craft.

  • Host a meet-the-principal potluck to allow parents, community members and school officials to talk and get to know one another in an informal setting.

Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.

Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide

This guide is an invitation to dialogue. It is based on a belief in the power of human connection, designed for people who want to use The Principal Story to engage family, friends, classmates, colleagues and communities. In contrast to initiatives that foster debates in which participants try to convince others that they are right, this document envisions conversations undertaken in a spirit of openness in which people try to understand one another and expand their thinking by sharing viewpoints and listening actively.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

This lesson plan is designed to be used with the film The Principal Story, which follows the activities of two school principals, one a veteran and one a novice, during the course of a school year. Classrooms can use this film and its companion website resources to explore the nature of leadership.

Reading List

Delve Deeper

This multi-media resource list, compiled by Susan Conlon and Martha Perry of the Princeton Public Library, includes books, films and other materials related to the issues presented in the film The Principal Story, including books on effective teaching, leadership and best practices.

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We have no good schools without good principals.”

— Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; former CEO, Chicago Public Schools

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