Why Aren’t Principals Fighting Harder Against Mandates?

Yesterday, a friend sent me this article:


The article details how a survey of more than 500 principals conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found that nearly four in ten school leaders expect to step down within the next three years. An additional 62% said they would be leaving in the next six years.

The same friend asked me, “When are these Principals going to stand up for children?” It’s a good question.

These are people who worked hard to get these principalships, probably putting up with district politics and policies to get there. I know several who had to leave the counties they taught in for many years because the Superintendent wouldn’t give them a shot either due to personal prejudice or artificial quota systems by race and gender. They got jobs in other counties.

In general, I have found there are two types of people who become principals; those who want to make a real difference in a school and those who want to use the job as a stepping stone for something higher up the food chain. I have one friend who took the job because he was tired of the incompetent line of principals in his school and said to the Superintendent at the time, ” I could do it much better than any of them.” The Superintendent handed him the keys and told him the job was his.

You know what? He did a good job despite all the attempts by the Assistant Superintendent to sabotage him. She just didn’t like him because he liked telling the truth. When she ascended to the job of Superintendent, he lasted less than a year with her in charge.

I have also worked with one or two Principals who were using the job to get somewhere else. It was clear from the start that they would do the politically advantageous thing rather than what was right for the students and the school. The only good thing about them is that they usually didn’t stick around long. They moved to higher positions with better pay and better working conditions. Funny thing, they didn’t last long there either. People figured out who they really were.

Being a principal is being between a rock, a hard place, and a whirlpool. They have to answer to the Superintendent and the Board of Education, the parents and students, and the teachers. If something happens at a school, the Principal is first to handle it. They are also the scapegoats for any Board policy that is unpopular or goes wrong. If a teacher screws up, the Principal will get called on the carpet. Covid and the measures government has taken don’t help. That’s why many school leaders make six figures a year.

It’s also not an excuse to do the wrong thing.

I understand that sometimes one has to do what one is told. I was a teacher, a central office employee, a teacher mentor, etc. There were many times I followed what I was told to do, but NEVER anything I felt was unethical, dishonest, or unfair to others.( I did, however, make mistakes!)

With Covid, it seems that Principals are more muzzled than the children. I know there are many who disagree with the mask mandates, the vaccine incentive gift cards, etc. They can’t speak out.

Those who have been around for a while know how to negotiate this dilemma. They know how to do what they know is right while keeping the powers that be happy. Many of them are willing to lose their jobs over principles.

Younger Principals aren’t. For many of them, they are learning on the job. Yes, they have been Assistant Principals in the past, but I’m telling you, it’s not the same. It’s like being the head coach of a pro football team versus being a coach of one position. The head coach gets all the blame, the assistant can blame his failures on the head coach.

Younger Principals will often march to the music the district plays for them. And they will do it with verve, even to the point of violating every core belief they have. Losing the principalship could mean the end of their career.*

This can also depend on what their boss, the Superintendent, will allow. I have worked through five different Superintendents, and I know of only two who would entertain the idea of Principals giving their honest opinions. One of them actually TOLD Principals to speak up, give him an honest opinion.

The others? Well, a Principal better hold his/her tongue or get a job in the Alternative Learning Center.

There were plenty who didn’t give a damn and did whatever they needed to in order to stay on the good side of their boss. Even if it hurt kids.

(By the way, there is no real union for administrators in education. The Association in place negotiates contracts, but htere’s no tenure. An administrator can be fired at any point for any reason. That means they will be demoted to a lesser position or they can leave the district. Both mean at least a partial loss of income.)

This is causing great harm to our children and also to teachers. The reality of principals blindly following senseless upper administration edicts may have been less harmful five or six years ago. But now, when districts are mandating so many destructive measures in the name of “health,” having a principal who cannot stand up for the school and kids is a recipe for disaster. Add to that the willingness of many principals to turn a blind eye to other issues such as student violence, and we have schools that are no longer doing their job. They have violated their duty to the children and the trust of the parents.

As a result, the public schools are losing students to private schools and homeschooling at an astounding rate.

It’s very sad that the Principal of a school used to be the person who was the true leader on the education front lines. This was the person you trusted to make sure your child’s school was not only safe, but that staff was doing what they were supposed to do, teach reading, writing, math, science and social studies. I was blessed to work with some of them. As a teacher, you would go to war for that Principal. You KNEW they had the right motives for what they did. Now it seems that this kind of Principal is rare.

I know a couple that are still around, but even they are beset by Superintendents and School Boards more concerned about optics and virtue signaling than common sense and the needs of kids. How long will these Principals last? Will they be able to maintain their ethics or will they decide that position and politics are more important than doing what is right? I certainly hope not.

It’s a short trip from where we are now in our schools to the point where they are so violent, so chaotic, that most children will not survive either physically or mentally.

So, when we ask why the Principals don’t stand up against all the harmful, unrealistic, and ineffective mandates and rules, it’s a multi-layered answer. However, I think it comes down to one thing. Lack of Courage.

John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death-but saddling up anyway.”

Our Principals are scared and many of them will not “saddle up.”

Want to help them? Here are some ideas:

1.If you have a good Principal, stand behind that person and support him/her when they stand up for what is right even if it means going against the Superintendent. Send letters of support repeatedly even when nothing is going on. Make sure those letters go to the Principal, the Superintendent and the Board.

2. If the Principal of your child’s school is a younger, newer administrator, observe them carefully. If they do something you don’t like, meet with them to discuss. It will help you discover what really happened. Sometimes. If they do something that is good, see #1.

3. If you find your child in a school with a really bad Principal, make sure people know. Document what is going on with dates, conversations, emails, etc. and present that information to the Superintendent and the Board. Make sure this is FIRST HAND info. Do NOT ask for the Principal to be fired. Report the behaviors and/or incidents objectively. Let the Superintendent and the Board make the decision. Usually, they won’t let a toxic Principal stay in their job. However, if nothing happens and the incidents continue, no one can deny that they knew. This could be invaluable later.

It’s important that you keep yourself outside any possible job action. If things happen, report them. That’s it.

If you have to, get your child out of the school. To be clear, sometimes schools have such strong staff and Assistant Principals that they can still operate successfully and safely for kids. This can only last so long. Sooner or later, things deteriorate. A school cannot survive bad leadership.

Just like a country.

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I am a 67 year old runner and conservative. I taught for 31 years and retired a few years back. In my life, I have coached and judged gymnastics, coached softball, and raised two amazing kids.

2 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Principals Fighting Harder Against Mandates?”

  1. Excellent insight, Jan.
    The bottom line is Principals are the Leaders. If they cannot do what is right and ethical, then they must be replaced. Our children are too valuable to be pawns in power struggles. Support those who have children and staff as the core of their service. Others need to be removed and become politicians.

Thanks for commenting!!