An opportunity for families: Call a principal and ask anything

"When is it a good time to start my child in school?" "Johnny is really doing well, can I move him up a grade?" "Can you explain special-education testing?"

These are a few common questions fielded by elementary and middle school principals staffing the National Principals' Hotline.

The hot line is an annual event hosted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) during its three-day conference (March 21-23). It's an opportunity for parents to contact principals about education-related questions.

The idea was pioneered 10 years ago to bring both attention to the association and improve the home/school connection, says June Million, the NAESP's public information director.

"There's never enough communication," Ms. Million says. "And it gives the principals a sense of being able to help."

Participant Susan Vanzant, a middle school principal in California, sees the hot line as a great myth-shattering opportunity and an important link to the issues concerning parents.

"It shows us as concerned educators - a person who you can come to and talk over questions," she says. "There's this myth of principals just as disciplinarians."

They do spend a lot of their time simply encouraging parents to contact their own school principals, she adds. "Mostly I listen and then tell them, 'Your principal is going to listen, too.' "

On average the hot line logs between 800 and 1,000 calls over the three-day period. Many of those are not just from parents, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, and students.

"One time a child called and asked, 'Why does the teacher always call on me when I don't raise my hand?' " Million says.

The hot line is staffed by principals attending the conference who volunteer to answer calls for a couple of hours. There's also a school psychologist on staff at all times to handle some of the tougher behavior-related questions.

But don't call the hot line intending to pick a fight about federal policy or school funding. The principals aren't there to debate, but to address general education concerns and issues.

The hot line will be in operation during the following hours (Eastern time): March 21, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.; March 22, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and March 23, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The phone number is 800-944-1601.

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