House Calls: A Principal on Patrol
On a cold, drizzling Portland afternoon, Greg Wolleck directs students and cars throughSkip to next paragraph
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Kellogg Middle School's parking lot to ensure the two do not collide. As students dart safely into buses and cars, Mr. Wolleck dashes to his Honda Civic in the next block.
For this principal, his watch does not end as his flock leaves school. Wolleck spends the next half-hour driving to neighborhood bus stops. He passes several parks where students sometimes fight. Stacks of work await Wolleck in his warm office, but these patrols are important to him.
School districts dream of a principal like Wolleck. But the job is becoming more difficult to fill. Educators across the nation are shunning the once-coveted position.
Budget cuts and the growing demands of the job are prompting many experienced, highly educated teachers to reject career tracks in school administration. Principals enjoy less job security than in years past, and the pay isn't much better than that of the teachers they supervise.
The Portland school district pays starting elementary school principals only a few thousand dollars more each year than an experienced teacher with a master's degree.
Next year, the district expects to lose 30 of about 100 principals to retirement. Officials don't know how they will fill all the slots.
It is a problem that they share with school districts across the country. According to a survey commissioned by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, more than half the districts surveyed were having trouble filling principal posts. Says executive director Tom Koerner, "In the next five years it's going to get critical."
The job offers fewer rewards, Mr. Koerner says. He compares the job to being the coach of a basketball team. "If the team is not doing well, who goes? The team or the coach?" he says. "The coach."
Persuading students to show up
One of Wolleck's greatest challenges this year is to make sure students show up.
On a given day, about 10 percent of Kellogg's students miss school. During the first semester, about 175 of the school's 688 students missed 10 days or more. Some had legitimate excuses, such as illness, but too many missed classes for other reasons. They might be fishing with a divorced parent or helping their mother run a baby-sitting business. One student, who lives less than a block from Kellogg, has missed more than 40 days. His mother can't figure out how to make him attend.
When students miss school, educators lose valuable time and tax dollars. District spokesman Lew Frederick estimates that absenteeism costs the Portland district about $30 million annually. State funding is based on attendance, and districts are not reimbursed for absentee students. In the past, the district has made up the losses with a contingency fund. This year, the money isn't there.
Enter Wolleck and company.
The district has asked principals to devise plans to deal with the problem. As an incentive, the district plans to give each school half the money it saves by improving attendance. Principals stretched thin aren't thrilled.
"I've heard enough principals say, 'I didn't get in the business to be a truant officer,' " says Mr. Frederick.