Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions


Dionne V. McLaughlin

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    “I have never seen or heard of an excellent school that did not have an excellent principal. In this important new book McLaughlin helps us to understand what it takes to become a genuine expert as a school leader by closely examining how they navigate the challenges involved in leading schools during these turbulent times. For policymakers, district leaders, parents and others who want to see more progress in the effort to improve our nation's schools, this book will be an invaluable resource.”

    —Pedro A. Noguera, PhD
    Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education
    Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development
    Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
    New York University

    “This book is a rare blend of practice and solid academic work. Dionne V. McLaughlin's writing shows that she ‘talks the talk because she has walked the walk.’ As a former elementary and secondary school site administrator with a multicultural background, she navigates some of the most difficult and dangerous waters in school site decision making today. In the process of unpacking the nature of difficult decisions, she has not only created powerful exemplars that others can follow, but has erected models that will serve as fount of motivation and inspiration.”

    —Fenwick W. English
    R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership
    School of Education
    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    “Agile and inspiring principals remain key to lifting America's schools, to accelerate our progress in narrowing disparities in student learning. Dionne V. McLaughlin vividly describes the everyday challenges that face principals—coaching mediocre teachers, trying to engage dissident kids, inspiring teachers to collaborate and labor as eager professionals. It's a masterful volume, offering ethical tenets and helpful tips for aspiring principals, a riveting balance of practical case studies and sound theories of leadership. How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions is a must read for future school leaders, policy makers, and reformers.”

    —Bruce Fuller
    University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Education

    “In Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions, Dionne V. McLaughlin describes a sensible and cohesive approach to decision making and includes case studies of actual situations faced by real principals. McLaughlin provides useful information and guidance for busy principals who make a multitude of decisions on a daily basis. Insights is a valuable resource for new and aspiring principals as well as experienced principals.”

    —C. Diane Payne
    Director, Principal Fellows Program
    Center for School Leadership Development
    Chapel Hill, NC

    “Even as an experienced administrator, I found the book valuable in validating my own decision making during difficult situations. This book provides administrators with real stories from those working in school administration. As an administrator, I felt this book had great examples of difficult decisions, accurate steps taken to try and come to a solution, and examples of decisions made that truly make sense. I found the book to be an excellent read.”

    —Nicky Kemp
    Assistant Superintendent North Callaway R-1 School District
    Kingdom City, MO


    As a new principal, I did not realize initially just how crucial decision making was to my success. I succumbed to pressure and made hasty decisions without anticipating the likely repercussions.

    I wish I had been able to consult a resource like Insights when I was contemplating how to move my faculty toward change or when I was faced with difficult situations demanding resolution for which no decision seemed the right one. Over time, I developed a set of professional core values, but did not always make the important connection between my core values and which decisions mattered most. I also came to understand the importance of assessing school culture when making decisions to introduce change, and utilizing key problem-solving processes to resolve difficult decisions.

    Homer-Dixon (2000) states,

    “We demand that (leaders) solve, or at least manage, a multitude of interconnected problems that can develop into crises without warning; we require them to navigate an increasingly turbulent reality that is, in key aspects, literally incomprehensible to the human mind; we submerge them in often unhelpful and distracting information; and we force them to decide and act at an ever faster pace” (p. 15).

    One of the greatest challenges principals face is the capacity to make good decisions. As principals are bombarded with competing demands, they face the daily challenge of making a host of good decisions in a short amount of time. In this turbulent reality, principals are often obliged to make decisions with limited pertinent information. Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions is full of cases about real principals and full of the words and phrases they used to describe their own dilemmas. By conducting extensive interviews with expert principals about the difficult and complex decisions that they make on a daily basis, I have tried to tease out the factors that inform and guide those decisions. In these pages, principals speak of their core values and priorities, the cultures of their schools, the competing pressures they must withstand, and the processes they have developed to reach the best possible decisions. As the title of the book suggests, they have valuable insights to offer. With the distillation of their thoughts in this volume, I hope to provide a practical guide to strategic decision making for all principals—for new and aspiring principals as well as for those principals who are seeking to improve their decision making.

    This book could be utilized for professional development for new or aspiring principals, as a supplement to a university principal preparation course, or as a guide for training principals looking for opportunities to improve their practice. Much like the professional consultation that a mentor principal can offer, Insights models effective decision-making processes and provides tips to guide less experienced colleagues. This book includes specific, practical leadership case studies from principals in urban and suburban settings that provide several opportunities for self-reflection. Case study resolutions and a Classroom Walkthrough instrument are included in the Resources section. Tips for making specific types of decisions are featured, for example, tips for managing a crisis with a suspected or actual weapon on school grounds, tips to consider when making policy changes, tips for managing faculty misconduct, as well as concise charts that illustrate decisions principals made to close the gap in their respective schools. Readers will be exposed to a framework for making difficult decisions in complex, unpredictable environments. Recommendations for how to avoid critical errors in decision making are also included. As an experienced bilingual high school and elementary school principal who has worked in urban and suburban settings, I also share my leadership experiences. I maintain my assertion that if school leaders are exposed to difficult and complex decisions and their resolutions, they will be better able to solve similar problems that they may encounter.

    In Part I, I highlight the factors expert principals consider in decision making as well as a larger shared focus on improvement, stakeholders, and data. Strategies described include examining the whole picture, considering multiple scenarios and sifting through superfluous details, determining who else will be involved in the decision-making process, and viewing both the foreground and background of a dilemma.

    In Part II of the book, I explore particular types of difficult decisions principals encountered and how they utilized strategies presented in Part I to develop a resolution. In these chapters, principals describe a wide range of decisions: for example, to conduct intense evaluations of ineffective teachers, fire a popular coach, pursue long-term suspensions, revamp a bell schedule, resolve cyberbullying, and use data to improve the performance of African American and Latino students. They shared structures they have developed in their schools, the legal implications of difficult and complex decisions, how school policy influences decision making, how to make decisions that will transform the school environment, and how to make effective decisions even in instances where trust is absent.

    Introducing the Principals

    The 21 principals who participated in the study—from five districts in urban and suburban counties in Massachusetts, Maryland, and North Carolina—are introduced in Table 1.0. Principals were asked the extent to which they utilized problem-solving strategies outlined in Brenninkmeyer and Spillane's (2008) framework or Davis's (2004) framework for heuristic decision making. The frameworks are utilized to examine effective decision-making practices of expert principals and to explore practical applications. Central office administrators were asked to recommend their best (expert) principals. In cases where the district expressed reluctance to name best principals, principals were selected who had been mentor principals and/or whose school's standardized test scores reflected above average school achievement for the district. Individual qualitative principal interviews (45–60 minutes) were conducted with principals in five districts in urban and suburban counties. Pseudonyms were utilized throughout. Questions were created by me in consultation with the Odum Institute and approved by my former university human rights in research committee (IRB # 2103-P-0010). The principals’ administrative experience ranges from 5 to 29 years. About half the principals interviewed were female. The majority were White, but several African American and Latino principals were also interviewed. The principals led small and large schools ranging in size from 105 to 2,353 students. Principals were from traditional schools, alternative schools, and early college high schools. Some were high-poverty, majority-minority schools; several others were very prestigious, affluent schools. I enjoyed our conversations tremendously. I was amazed by the candor, grace, and ease with which the principals handled the extremely volatile and contentious decisions they encountered.

    Table 1.0 Expert Principals

    After reading this book, you will:

    • Discover the problem-solving strategies of expert principals, which include utilizing a data focus, improvement focus, and stakeholder focus.
    • Investigate the factors expert principals consider when making decisions to manage a crisis or make policy changes.
    • Assess the role of core values in decision making.
    • Review core values that guide principals and develop your own professional core values.
    • Ascertain the role of building trusting relationships as changes are strategically introduced.
    • Become aware of the types of decisions that can lead to regaining control of unsettling environments.
    • Articulate how school culture affects decision making.
    • Learn the practices for improving decision making using heuristic thinking.
    • Determine how examining the whole picture, expanding the field of attention, visualizing solutions, and involving others can improve decision making.
    • Adopt strategies for making difficult decisions about student disciplinary consequences.
    • Establish an Intense Teacher Evaluation Process.
    • Learn guidelines for making decisions about terminating high-profile coaches, managing duplicitous faculty practices, and dealing with allegations of faculty misconduct.
    • Review successful practices for data analysis that increase the performance of African American and Latino students.
    • Ascertain how changing structures, eliminating barriers to access, and introducing programs can increase the academic performance of African American and Latino students.


    To my husband, Paul, I am deeply appreciative of your confidence and for all of your loving support during this process.

    To my sons, Michael and Paul. Thank you for your understanding, your independence, your hugs, your smiles, and your encouragement.

    To the 21 principals in North Carolina, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Your veracity, dedication, and temerity in the face of unexpected challenges and tremendous opposition is remarkable.

    To Gail L. Thompson for introducing me to Dan and subsequently to Arnis.

    To the entire team at Corwin, especially Arnis E. Burvikovs, executive editor, Desiree A. Bartlett, senior associate editor, Lisa Lysne, marketing manager, Veronica Stapleton Hooper, project editor, Deanna Noga, copy editor, Andrew Olson, editorial assistant, and Kimberly Schmidt, marketing assistant.

    To Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, Dean Wynetta Lee, and Chair Laurell C. Malone for welcoming me to the North Carolina Central University family.

    A special note and thanks to photographer and friend Peggy Davis. You are incredibly talented. Your patience is appreciated.

    To Michelle, Linda, Tamara, Gina, Carmen, La-Eula, Johnavae, Beth, Andrea, Vanessa, Carolyn, Vivian, and Eleanor for your encouraging words, love, and support.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin would like to thank the following individuals for their editorial insight and guidance:

    • Dr. Virginia E. Kelsen
    • Principal
    • Rancho Cucamonga High School
    • Rancho Cucamonga, CA
    • Nicky Kemp
    • Assistant Superintendent
    • North Callaway R-1 School District
    • Kingdom City, MO
    • Dr. Noran L. Moffett and Melanie Frizzell
    • Associate Dean/Professor of Educational Leadership
    • Fayetteville State University
    • Fayetteville, NC
    • Debra Paradowski
    • Associate Principal
    • Arrowhead Union High School
    • Hartland, WI
    • Cathy Patterson
    • 5th Grade Teacher
    • Walnut Valley USD
    • Walnut, CA
    • John Robinson
    • Principal
    • Newton Conover City Schools
    • Newton, NC
    • Joy Rose
    • High School Principal (Retired)
    • Westerville City Schools
    • Westerville, OH

    About the Author

    Dionne V. McLaughlin, EdD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at North Carolina Central University. She is a British-born Jamaican educator who is an experienced bilingual high school and elementary school principal. Dr. McLaughlin has experience as a K–12 METCO director for a voluntary desegregation program in Massachusetts and as the program director for a Latino community-based organization. Additionally, she has 11 years of teaching experience; a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and a master's in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research interests include the principalship, Blacks in Latin America, effective teachers of African American and Latino high school students, and examining the racial context of schools. Recent scholarly works include an NCPEA article on how administrators can improve schools by learning from the experiences of African American and Latino high school students and a Teacher Education Journal of South Carolina article, “The Cultural Symphony in Schools: Effectively Teaching African American and Latino High School Students.” Dr. McLaughlin has also authored a chapter of a Sage book, “New South Realities, Demographics, Cultural Capital, and Diversity” in The Sage Guide to Educational Leadership and Management (2015). Dr. McLaughlin has led workshops for teachers, principals, and assistant principals on culturally responsive teaching, effective school practices, and making effective leadership decisions. Recent presentations include the International Conference on Urban Education (Montego Bay, Jamaica) in 2014, ASCD 2015 Conference on Teaching Excellence (Nashville, TN), and the National Association of Elementary Principals (NAESP) in 2015.


    To my husband, Paul, my best friend

    To my sons, Paul and Michael

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    Classroom Walkthrough Form

    Copyright © 2015 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions by Dionne V. McLaughlin. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin,

    Current Bell Schedule

    Copyright © 2015 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions by Dionne V. McLaughlin. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin,

    Proposed Bell Schedule

    Copyright © 2015 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions by Dionne V. McLaughlin. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin,

    Principal Interview Questions

    Copyright © 2015 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Insights: How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions by Dionne V. McLaughlin. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin,

    Chapter 1
    Resolution: Case Study #1: It All Started So Well—How Poorly Made Decisions Can Sabotage a Principalship: Dr. Iona

    1. Dr. Iona should have conducted a thorough investigation of the scheduling needs of her school, met with her Leadership Team about the proposed changes, and carefully considered the repercussions of a schedule change. Dr. Iona could also have consulted her area superintendent about her plans and solicited input.

    Though she engaged in some meetings with teachers, Dr. Iona did not anticipate the problems that would arise with the new schedule. Potential pitfalls such as extraordinarily long lines in the cafeteria, teacher fatigue, and the impact of eating lunch at 10:40 a.m. should not have been dismissed. If Dr. Iona was unable to adequately address these concerns before the new schedule was introduced, the changes should not have been implemented. A scheduling change is a major undertaking that should not be introduced without a thoroughly developed implementation plan.

    2. Dr. Iona should have created a process to obtain feedback about the new schedule change. If she had done this, teachers may not have felt the need to communicate their concerns to parents. Because Dr. Iona was so invested in the change, she missed overt signs that support for the schedule was waning. She should have discussed the changes with teachers during passing periods, in the cafeteria, and during scheduled input sessions. Dr. Iona might have learned about teacher concerns during these formal and informal conversations. While it is important not to vacillate once a decision has been made, room needs to made for input and adjustments if needed.

    3. Ideally class changes are made before students and parents see the schedules. If changes need to be made after students have already been attending classes for 3 or more weeks, teachers, parents, students, and counselors should be part of the decision-making process. Classes should be balanced based on race, gender, and academic ability. Attention should be paid to the needs of English Language Learners and special education individualized education programs (IEPs) when making class changes. The needs of graduating seniors and athletes should be considered where possible. Even in cases where students may not be especially fond of their teacher, after 3 weeks, routines have been established, friendships with classmates created, and teacher expectations communicated. Moving to a classroom with a new teacher represents the unknown and will be perceived by most as unpopular. The new class will likely have few volunteers and be smaller than the other classes since many parents and students will opt to stay where they are (even if the class is larger and overcrowded). The rules for the moves should be clearly articulated and consistently applied.

    4. Dr. Iona failed to recognize that she was implementing too many changes too quickly. Teachers were not able to adjust to the first change before another change was introduced. While it is risky not to comply with central office mandates, principals should be willing to communicate with central office leaders at times when initiatives are ill timed or overwhelming for their staff. In cases where there are state mandates no such flexibility exists, but sometimes principals can make a plea for more time or a graduated rollout period for a new initiative. In this case, ultimately the pressure did not work. There was dissent so progress was stalled. Energy was diverted to focusing on fixing the environment rather than on improving student learning outcomes.

    Chapter 1
    Resolution: Case Study #2: Effectively Addressing an Egregious Error: Ms. Steadman

    Using student initials, Ms. Steadman presented data to her counselors from 12 student transcripts that illustrated the transcript errors. Ms. Steadman communicated that what mattered was correcting the errors and developing a process to ensure that these types of errors did not reoccur.

    1. In an effort to provide counselors with time to correct the errors, Ms. Steadman allowed them to spend faculty meeting time initially set aside for school-wide equity training to correct transcripts. Since the errors that had been discovered pertained to transcripts of African American and Latino students, counselors were told to primarily focus their attention on reviewing the transcripts of African American and Latino students in their part of the alphabet. As time allowed, their charge was to review the transcripts of all their other fragile learners and eventually to ensure that all transcripts were free of errors.

    2. Ms. Steadman elected to focus on exposing the errors and reaching a solution so that these types of errors would not occur again. Ms. Steadman did not assign consequences to counselors who were responsible for the errors; instead she provided additional time for them to correct the errors.

    3. Counselors were advised to communicate with parents and students about the errors on student transcripts.

    Chapter 5
    Resolution: Case Study #3: Distorted Yearbook Picture

    1. Since Morant Surrey is such a large high school—about 1,900 students—and the yearbooks had already been printed and distributed to seniors, it was not possible to collect the books. It was also not financially feasible nor was there sufficient time before the end of the school year to reprint 1,900 yearbooks.

    2. A thorough investigation took place before any consequences were assigned. Several students were interviewed and written statements were retrieved. Ms. Mobay, the yearbook teacher, was mortified. She had proofed the yearbook, but had not seen any of the distortions before the final printing. After the witness statements were gathered, Principal Steadman communicated with Mandy.

    3. Due to the sensitive nature of this situation, parents were not contacted until after Principal Steadman was able to deduce what happened and after she had a written statement from Mandy.

    4. Once Mandy admitted to the offense, Principal Steadman considered when she could issue a suspension. There were very few days left before final exams began and the last day of school for seniors was approaching quickly.

    5. While it was tempting to consider taking away the prom or graduation, the prom had already taken place since it was so late in the year. Principal Steadman realized that graduation is usually more valued by parents and family members than students. Taking away graduation is an irrevocable decision that should only be considered under very dire circumstances when no other alternatives are available. Principal Steadman did not create any stipulations about not attending graduation as part of the consequences issued.

    6. Mandy was also a member of the National Honor Society, but since the faculty committee is primarily responsible for making determinations about revoking membership, Principal Steadman provided the faculty advisor with the information about the offense. The faculty committee ultimately decided to remove Mandy from the National Honor Society.

    7. Mandy had already been accepted to college so Mandy's father made the proactive decision to contact the university to inform them of the situation before the school was compelled to do so.

    8. Principal Steadman had to contend with the media, though most communication was directed to central office. Helen's father decided to contact the local television station to share his daughter's story.

    9. Regarding Mandy's consequences, she served a multiday suspension and she was required to pay to have a small number of yearbooks (10) reprinted so that Helen and her family could have a yearbook without the distortions, some copies could be printed and kept at the school, and Helen's friends who were featured on the same page could also receive pictures that were free from tampering.

    10. Principal Steadman spent an inordinate amount of time meeting with families, students, teachers, and her school community. It was particularly important to spend time with Helen and provide her with guidance counselor support to help her cope with this difficult situation.

    Chapter 5
    Resolution: Case Study #4: Cyberbullying

    1. Dr. Howell communicated with her assistant principal, Ms. Gray, and Martin's counselor to review any records or e-mail communication they had received from the Jaspers about Martin. Once it was determined that Ms. Gray had not been made aware of the bullying from the previous year, that was communicated to the Jaspers. Mrs. Jasper had communicated with the counselor but stated at that time that she did not want to pursue any action against Sam or Dianne. The counselor was encouraged to share this type of information with an assistant principal if provided by a parent in any future communication.

    2. The Jaspers were exasperated so they were considering legal action. Dr. Howell provided them with the School Resource Officer's contact information so that they could talk with him about the process for filing charges against Sam and Dianne.

    3. Dr. Howell communicated with the principal at Surrey Glen High School, Martin's current school, about providing support for Martin given the continuation of this harassment and his mental health needs.

    4. Dr. Howell clarified the limitations of the school's jurisdiction. Consequences could only be assigned for Facebook threats that were issued at school or if the threats caused a substantial disruption to the school community. Dr. Howell encouraged the Jaspers to contact the local police about the incident that took place at the mall.

    5. Suspensions were issued for Sam and Dianne for harassment and bullying.

    Chapter 6
    Resolution: Case Study #5: Teacher Disregards District Policies

    1. For the first incident, Dr. Zenga was compelled to assign disciplinary consequences. She suspended the student.

    2. Following the first incident, Dr. Zenga had a meeting with Mr. Owen and gave him a formal letter of reprimand, but decided not to issue other consequences to Mr. Owen. Dr. Zenga stated that she felt that she had no choice other than to document the issue. The second incident resulted in a long-term suspension for the student. Dr. Zenga showed a great deal of patience in dealing with Mr. Owen, a tenured teacher. Dr. Zenga met with Mr. Owen again and decided to only give him a written reprimand and not pursue further disciplinary action. Mr. Owen violated district policy twice by asking students for a weapon. It was also the second time that students were given consequences based on a request made by Mr. Owen. When the third incident occurred, Dr. Zenga decided to seek advice from Human Resources and the school board attorney. Together they decided to pursue steps toward a Last Chance Agreement for Mr. Owen. Dr. Zenga shared the importance of making difficult decisions along the way to confront a teacher and to document concerns about how a teacher's actions had placed students in compromising positions.

    Dr. Zenga further stated,

    What I have noticed about other leaders is that they don't make the small decisions to hold teachers accountable, not in a malicious way, but that makes the decisions harder. In most cases, I am protecting the teacher, because if a parent complains, I can say I took action so the parent doesn't go off and hire a lawyer. It is hard to hold people accountable. Intentions were not bad, but impact was. That is the challenge—to make the small decisions along the way. It would have been easier to say, “Don't do that again,” especially when you have a teacher that kids like. I liked him. He was a young personable guy I liked. My major work has been around the achievement gap. He was a voice supporting that work, but at the same time, I have to hold everyone to the standards regardless of whether they are my detractors. By the time I got to the end, it was easy. If there were previous egregious situations, nothing was documented in his file. I knew for his own sake that I had to make those decisions. Those decisions put students in very compromising situations. I made the decision to hold him accountable and to document that. That is a macro decision I have made, when a teacher does something egregious, but in most cases, it will be a letter in their file that won't see the light of day. But in this case once it came out, I had the documentation.

    3. Although consequences should be issued for students carrying knives and drugs on campus, this did not prevent parents from raising legitimate questions about the reason students were searched. Given the violation of school committee policy, Dr. Zenga was obliged to assign disciplinary consequences to the students.

    4. Dr. Zenga mentioned that although it was difficult, she believed that she was protecting her teacher by documenting her concerns. If she had not taken action, she believed parents would have pursued litigation.

    Dr. Zenga reiterated that sometimes painful decisions have to be made that are in the best interest of teachers. If unchecked, Mr. Owen would have been allowed to believe that his behavior was acceptable. Mr. Owen violated district policy on possession of a weapon and subjected students to harsh physical treatment and the display of vulgar sexual content in a classroom without consulting parents or the school principal. Dr. Zenga did not ignore flagrant behavior. She monitored, documented, and when appropriate consulted Human Resources and the school attorney. She also exercised patience. Mr. Owen was a well-liked tenured teacher. Dr. Zenga moved deliberately and chose to avoid rushing to propose termination. She methodically communicated in writing and in person with the teacher, and after several warnings had been issued over a period of 2 years, she moved to offer termination or resignation. Not all the incidents were related, but Mr. Owen's actions showed a pattern of poor judgment with students and a disregard for district policy. Because Dr. Zenga chose to confront the teacher each time, when it became evident that Mr. Owen needed to be terminated or resign, there was sufficient evidence in his file to support her decision. Mr. Owen resigned the spring following the fourth incident.

    Chapter 7
    Resolution: Case Study #6: Mandatory School Move

    1. The first decision Ms. Cantrell made was to make sure that teachers, students, and parents were informed. Ms. Cantrell chose to bring the students in for a full assembly and to tell them that she had not made the decision to move the school to another part of the city. She also told her students that the details of the move were still uncertain, but she wanted to communicate with them about next steps.

    2. Ms. Cantrell agreed to send out the letter that stated that the decision to move had been collaborative, but decided not to sign it. Ms. Cantrell made a bold decision to challenge her superintendent given that the statement about collaboration was untrue. Tensions mounted between Ms. Cantrell and her superintendent over Ms. Cantrell's decision to meet with her students before the move was officially announced. Ms. Cantrell decided that she wanted to be the one to tell her students about the move. She wanted them to hear it from her first.

    3. Ms. Cantrell contacted her city councilor, and the situation became really complicated. The councilor was willing to defend the elementary school that was being forced out of its building so that Torbay Kent High School could move in. The councilor was not willing, however, to come between Torbay Kent High School and the school department.

    4. Ms. Cantrell shared that as she was navigating this situation, she had to determine when to push, how to push, and when to draw the line in the sand. She also grappled with when to go public and when to be private. If it is clear that political forces that include a powerful, long-standing mayor are supportive of the move, it may not be the political fight to engage in. Principals are often faced with decisions about how to interact with central office supervisors and superintendents especially when inaccurate information is shared publically in an effort to convince the public that a collaborative decision-making process was followed. It is politically risky to disagree publically or privately with a superintendent, particularly about an initiative that the superintendent is promoting, which in this case was the moving of several district schools. Ms. Cantrell chose some politically neutral ground, in that she elected not to fight the move, though she sought out political support from a city councilor before reaching that decision. She also chose not to sign the letter that stated she had collaborated on the decision, but she did not cross a line by refusing to mail the letter. Instead, she complied with the superintendent's request to mail the unrevised letter, but Ms. Cantrell communicated that she would not sign it. In the end, though she faced some tense times with the superintendent, within a couple of years following the move, the superintendent retired and Ms. Cantrell, a long-standing principal in the district, remained in her position as principal of Torbay Kent High School.


    Connect Ed:

    Electronic mass notification system that can be utilized in K–12 settings to notify families, staff, and others about pertinent school information or to provide updates in an emergency situation. Messages can be sent within a few minutes by phone, text, e-mail, or social media.

    Core Values:

    Fundamental beliefs or guiding principles of an institution or individual that influence behavior.

    Culturally Responsive Instruction:

    Instruction that makes meaningful connections to the diverse backgrounds of classroom students while emphasizing rigorous curricula and high expectations for achievement.


    The End of Course (EOC) is an exam distributed to students as part of a mandatory state assessment system. In some states, the EOCs are in Math, English, Social Studies, and Science and are taken by students in ninth to twelfth grades.


    The Education Value-Added Assessment System allows educators to identify individual student growth and progress over time. In North Carolina, the customized assessment system is used to evaluate student learning and individual educator effectiveness.

    Exceptional Education:

    Exceptional is used synonymously with special education. Exceptional education is instruction that is individually designed to address the specific needs of a child with a disability.

    Heuristic Decision Making:

    Davis (2004) defines heuristic decision making as cutting “problems down to size by chunking patterns of information into easily managed pieces, or rules of thumb. By rules of thumb it is meant that information is organized mentally via predetermined metarules that are category based and whole pattern in structure” (p. 631).

    Individualized Education Program (IEP):

    An IEP is a plan that specifies the classification of services that a child is eligible to receive based on his or her disability. The IEP is a legal instrument that includes goals, objectives, and accommodations.

    Manifestation Determination:

    When the disciplinary consequence for a special education student includes the possibility of an alternative placement, suspension, or expulsion, a manifestation determination is conducted to determine the appropriate consequence and to assess whether the student's disability is a mitigating factor. The questions asked consider whether the behaviors are a manifestation of the disability of the student.


    The METCO Program is a voluntary desegregation program that receives funding from the State of Massachusetts. At present, the program serves 3,300 minority students in 33 suburban Boston school districts and 4 districts outside of Springfield. Students are transported on a daily basis from their home in either Boston or Springfield to a neighboring suburban school. METCO Program staff coordinate placement/orientation and implement plans for the recognition and academic achievement of minority students. Additionally METCO staff create projects/systems that help urban students adjust to a suburban community and organize staff development.


    The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the Nation's Report card, includes uniform standardized assessments of our nation's children in Reading, Math, Science, Writing, the Arts, Civics, Economics, Geography, U.S. History, and Technology and Engineering Literacy.

    School Board:

    The governing board of a local school district that sets policy for the district. Some states utilize the term School Committee while others use School Board.

    School Committee:

    The governing board of a local school district that sets policy for the district. Some states utilize the term School Committee while others use School Board.

    Special Education:

    In some of the states where principals were interviewed, the term special education was utilized more frequently, in others, exceptional children is the acceptable term. Exceptional education is instruction that is individually designed to address the specific needs of a child with a disability.

    Test Item Deconstruction:

    This approach to curriculum alignment begins with “publically released test items and deconstruct(s) (break(s) them into smaller analytical pieces) to discern the level of cognitive ability, the format and the type of content” (English, 2006, p. 42).

    Weingarten Rights:

    The right to have a union representative attend an investigatory interview.

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