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Educational Leadership: What I Have Learned Being a Middle School Principal Intern

Published onDec 27, 2023
Educational Leadership: What I Have Learned Being a Middle School Principal Intern

Understanding the structure of this article: First, I walk through what my schools have done to get to know the community better and identify student and family needs. Then, I discuss the role of policies in library collections and challenges. Finally, I share some ways that I have been successful in using data to drive school initiatives and improve student success.

School libraries are having to fight to be funded, staffed fully, and supported by robust collection policies that provide access and materials for all patrons. But, in many schools, the leadership and purse strings fall in the hands of the building or district administrators. As the keynote speaker for the Washington State Library School Librarians conference on October 13, I prepared a ten-minute presentation on how to win the support of your building and/or district administration.

I am a librarian who has recently had the opportunity to expand my professional path into school administration with a Principal's Certification at Eastern Washington University, made possible by the Hahn-Ahlers Continuing Education Scholarship. This has given me a unique and important viewpoint into many of the challenging and disheartening current events affecting schools and their libraries. From mis- and dis-information, to book bans, and mass layoffs of secondary school librarians, I have learned a great deal from being not just a librarian but also an administrator sitting on the other side of the table. I accepted the Hahn-Ahlers Continuing Education Scholarship scholarship and wanted to share what I have learned in getting your building and/or district administrators to fully support the school library.

Know, nurture and serve your community.

Since the return to school after the COVID pandemic, finding and re-establishing community and belonging have become a huge priority in overcoming our collective trauma of isolation. In our district, the parent volunteers who want to raise funds and provide opportunities to individual schools participate in the school booster organization.  Each of the three booster organizations I interacted with during my internship are family volunteers who want to positively impact the entire school community. Often these booster organizations are supported by members who have a personal stake in the school community and available time to contribute and volunteer. Many are parents of students enrolled in the school; some have jobs within the school; some have careers outside the school; and most are domestic engineers, my friendly term of the people who run the entire household from top to bottom, with available time to invest in the school community. Although the demographics of the leadership board of these boosters is white, suburban, upper-class moms, the events they coordinate often reach our most marginalized community members. 

The vision of the Washougal School District (WSD) is “Washougal knows, nurtures, and challenges all students to rise”. Our district policies encourage and promote equitable and culturally responsible family engagement to reach our most marginalized populations in Washougal: Spanish-speaking/Latinx population, lower income families, and English Language Learners (ELL). In the WSD School Board Strategic Plan Equity Goal, our main goal is to see each student and address their needs, empower our staff to cultivate student agency and inclusion of all, and challenge systems of oppression by having representation in our WSD schools that reflect our student population. The WSD School Board Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion policy clearly articulates how each school will ensure that we are upholding this vision through addressing the Equity Goal. 

At Jemtegaard Middle School, we value relationships built with our students and spend our efforts cultivating those important student and adult connections. We gathered student input through a survey and analyzed the data as a staff in our Professional Learning Community (PLC) work. We offered Club 8, an after school program with various club opportunities on Thursdays, for students to discover different talents and socialize with friends. We also deliver Advisory lessons that cultivate community understanding of various cultures and integrate social, emotional learning standards, and JMS Boosters financially support cultural experiences in whole-school assemblies. We nurture our students through JMS Principal David Cooke’s “North Star Project” in which our staff takes care of themselves first so in which we work to take care of ourselves first so we can take care of our students. Our School Improvement Plan focused on our goal that every student can learn, and we will see measurable growth in Reading, Math and Science through our AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) work on Collaborative Communication strategies. We also nurture students through our Climate & Culture Committee work through creating a kindness campaign based on the data that reflected many of our students did not have but needed or wanted to cultivate a relationship with a caring adult in the school community. The MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) committee worked on lowering discipline referrals and increasing attendance and decided to work alongside our goal of connecting each student with a trusted adult in our school community. 

JMS teaching community strives to hear and share students’ stories about their cultural experience.  In our district’s middle schools, students are grouped by grade level and paired with middle school teachers for a thirty-minute advisory class that is conducted every Wednesday morning. Social Studies teacher Scott Rainey worked with our Latinx students to create a video explaining what the Day of the Dead holiday means to them. Then, that video was shared during one of these advisory lessons in October. Our Latinx students received a lot of praise from their peers. I shared this video at Hathaway Elementary during my Media lesson on el Día de los Muertos. It was such a special community connection as our Latinx students knew these older students, and some were siblings. 

WSD also has a thriving Spanish Family Connection program. Due to the inclusive work started in 2019 with the leadership of JMS Principal Cooke, WSD has a Spanish speaking Family Outreach Liaison Coordinator (Sandy Renner) who works alongside our Spanish Family Community administrator (Wendy Morrill) to bring services/resources, facilitate Spanish community evening events, and offer translating services districtwide. Principal Cooke also organizes two Parent Listening days annually and I was fortunate to attend the school day offering on April 18, 2023. A Spanish speaking family of a newer student to our community attended, and he truly listened to their concerns. Cooke was wonderful pulling out their information through their eldest daughter who acted as translator. He was vulnerable with his strengths and weaknesses and how he wants to improve JMS. Cooke also pointed out the weaknesses to the district communication. This is an enormously powerful communication tool to be on the same page with parents/guardians of our students, especially our bilingual school community members who struggle with only having school information in English. 

In planning Career Day, I was cognizant of bringing in a more diverse representation than our community typically interacts with to allow our Canyon Creek Middle School (CCMS) and JMS students of color to see successful career specialists of all ethnicities. Representing the diversity of the 19 career specialist volunteers: 13 Caucasians, five Latine volunteers, and one Black individual, with six women and 13 men, and one Blind woodworking artist. According to Cobb and Krownapple (2019), by affirming people through positive representation of various identities we begin to cultivate dignity. Students of color or varying ability must be exposed to positive career role models that reflect their identity so that they imagine themselves in a similar position. That sense of seeing someone like them reflected in a career that intrigues them provides an impactful lifelong encouragement to reach their potential. This intentional selection of volunteer specialists lays the foundation of dignity that must be present before people in a community can have a sense of belonging.

Administrators live by policy.

Book banning has become an issue in our district primarily in our high school. As the Library Media Specialist, I followed WSD Board Policy 2021 A. Library Collection Development and purchased the titles that are now being challenged by a single member in our Washougal community. The principal took these books and housed them in their office. I stand behind my purchasing decisions that were bought with WHS Library budget money and Rainbow Library grant funds and question why the principal felt they had the authority to remove these three titles and place them in their office. These titles were pulled from the WHS library collection without following the WSD Procedure 2021-P H. Request for Reconsideration of Library Media Materials

So, I did my research, located the supportive school policies, read the titles and I am pleased to report they are all beautiful pieces of Young Adult literature that are appropriate for any public high school collection. I wrote a review of each title, and then placed a professional journal review, my review, and any literary awards these books have won next to each book. Our students in the Gay Straight Alliance club helped me decide how to house and display our Rainbow Library collection to support their needs in finding these LGBTQ+ affirming titles. 

I also sent an email on the WLA School Libraries listserv, and received many messages of support. I put those emails into a document, and focused on feedback from schools that are of a similar size and demographic to Washougal High School.  The books are still in the WHS Principal’s office but the Library Media Instructor (classified position) is continuing the fight for the right to read these books. I left my WHS Library Media Specialist position August 2023, accepted a position as Dean of Students. The certificated librarian was not replaced at WHS.

Data driven decisions.

Find an issue that is hindering your school administration team and use your research strengths and data deciphering talents to help your administration solve problems. In my August administration planning meetings, WSD Superintendent Dr. Mary Templeton shared sobering data from our WSD Strategic Plan 2019-2025 that our 9th graders were not prepared for WHS. The entire district is interested in seeing the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade improve so our incoming freshmen will be academically, emotionally and socially prepared for their high school experience. I started with research, formulated a plan, and arranged the data in a format that was easy to read and understand.

My conclusion for JMS 8th grade students to be prepared academically, socially and emotionally for high school must analyze their:

  • Aptitude in academic, social, and emotional facets through YouScience (a software program designed to calculate their aptitudes WSD uses with grades 7-12)

  • Determine a career pathway

  • Forecast for their four-year high school course plan

  • Acknowledge the support of their family, teachers, and school counselors for an on-time graduation

The district was impressed with my work and intends to follow this Class of 2027 to see if this process truly improves freshmen readiness for high school and an on-time graduation in 2031. Informally, I have asked my colleagues in the high school and many of them said the students were more comfortable coming into the high school and fully aware of their four-year plan, but their demeanor is very disrespectful and many still lack the student academic skills for success.

Finally, as a Library Media Specialist that continually communicated and advocated for 10 years in the WSD to have librarians in each of our schools with the support of library assistants focused only on library work. I am saddened by the reality that Washington does not fully fund education. As I stepped back from my library advocacy in the WSD, I wanted to see other librarians in my team step up. Instead, we had silence.So, without this continual communication on the importance of our roles my district is down to one teacher librarian that oversees every library in our district. That District Librarian Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) is me. Now my beloved WSD Library PLC consists of a single certificated librarian and five full-time library media instructors in each of our school libraries. 

I spent my summer and fall applying for Assistant Principal positions, but getting my foot in the door is proving to be challenging. As I reflect on my next career steps, I often wonder if I will miss the library as a new administrator. However, now I know how to cultivate a community that values libraries, works alongside librarians to nurture them to serve their community fully and provide annual budgets that makes school known as a reading and beacon for information literacy.

While I haven’t been successful fighting every book ban or ensuring that students have easy access to the titles that reflect their identities, I’ve found great power in intentionally getting to know the community, the students, and their families. By approaching these conversations carefully and collaboratively, and using my library expertise to create data-driven interventions to improve student success, both the library and the school can better serve our community as we continue to advocate for our collections.

I hope to see you across the table as your administrator, supporting our school library.

A female-presenting person with light-colored hair and bangs poses for a black-and-white headshot.
Hillary Chapman has worked for 19 years as a Library Media Specialist and 27 years in education, and is now adding to her educational leadership resume. Chapman graduated June 17, 2023 with a Principal's Certification from Eastern Washington University. Chapman spent the 2022-23 school year interning at Jemtegaard Middle School and being mentored by the 2020 Washington State Principal of the Year, 2020, David Cooke. Prior to working in the Washougal School District, she taught fourth grade and was an Elementary Library Media Specialist in the Sumner School District, and then taught overseas as a Library Media Specialist in the Philippines, Brazil and South Korea for twelve years.
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