Tuesday evenings at Cesar Chavez Elementary, parents attending our first ever Stand University for Parents (STAND Up) are greeted by a familiar face, Principal Laura Morris. Dr. Morris always has a ready smile and tells parents how proud she is of their commitment to their child’s success.
As I watch her work well beyond 7 p.m., juggling logistics, questions from parents and supporting teachers, I marvel at how she does it. She’s an incredible leader whose commitment to Cesar Chavez students is undeniable and her impact on student learning can’t be overstated.
Stand for Children Oklahoma has released a report Pipeline to Success: Why Principal Development and Support is Key to School Turnaround, examining the role of a school principal and its impact on student success. Specifically, the report highlights past challenges within Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) to effectively support principals and its direct contribution to the discipline issues that have been highlighted in recent months.
The report also explains the financial impact of principal turnover, the importance of supporting and developing principals as instructional leaders and how doing so is key to turning around the most challenging schools.
Shortly after arriving in Oklahoma City, Superintendent Rob Neu and Associate Superintendent Aurora Lora quickly went to work identifying barriers principals face. They secured board approval to begin tackling these barriers immediately, understanding instinctively how some key changes could quickly lead to big gains in areas that have plagued the district for years, such as student conduct and principal turnover. A reorganization of the district’s central office led to the hiring of a principal manager and instructional leadership directors tasked with supporting a cadre of principals.
What these efforts mean on the ground is more time for leaders like Dr. Morris to spend with teachers as their schools’ instructional leaders and less time worrying about administrative issues that often divert principals’ focus from the chief priority: student learning.
This work already is making a difference in raising academic achievement within OKCPS and that work must continue. In fact, the next step to this important principal quality work is developing and adopting a strong principal pipeline initiative that identifies leadership potential among current staff and trains them to be strong principals with ongoing support from the district.
OKCPS is to be commended for its focus on an issue that doesn’t get enough attention. It’s not headline-grabbing work – but it should be. It’s the exact kind of work that ensures every school has a leader like Dr. Morris and that every child has an equal chance at success.
Matt Latham is the Oklahoma City Director of Stand for Children Oklahoma