Guest blogger Gina: My child's elementary school is in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. The Los Angeles Public School System has a reputation for having not-so-great schools, and I might have agreed two years ago, when we had an ineffective principal. Parents and teachers were very unhappy with her laissez faire attitude. In fact, if you went on any of the school-rating sites online, the comments were always the same: "Exceptional teachers, but the principal needs to go ...." (One post went so far as to call her a "bonehead," and I had to agree.)
It's next to impossible to get rid of anyone who works for the district, regardless of how poor their performance is, so we figured we'd have to live with her. But the following September, we were greeted at the school entrance by a new, serious-looking principal. "He kind of reminds me of Sergeant Hulka from 'Stripes,'" my husband whispered as we walked past him. It was a good comparison, actually. Aside from the physical similarities, like the crewcut and the stern expression, you got a definite sense that things were gonna be his way or the highway. As in, "Welcome to military school, kids."
At first, no one was sure how to feel about him. The students were afraid of him. In fact, I think the teachers and the parents were, too! His wasn't a friendly demeanor, which made people wonder if they'd judged our old principal too harshly.
That first week, flyers came home announcing new policies and procedures he had put in place. One mandated that parents dropping off children could no longer bring coffee on campus in case it spilled and burned someone; another was that your child would be marked tardy ("NO EXCEPTIONS!") if they came even one second after the 8 AM bell.
Wow. If the old principal was a pushover, this guy was the complete antithesis. Did he think he actually was running a military academy?
After a while, though, everyone chilled out, because we started to see some positive changes: Since Sergeant Hulka has been on the job, bullies (and their parents) are finally seeing consequences; that awful woman who ran the parent center -- but who always seemed to be annoyed with the parents -- was reassigned to a position fitting her personality (filing in the back office, tee hee); shirts had to be tucked in and skirts couldn't be too far above the knee; and the moms who hung around bothering the teachers have been told they can no longer interrupt the classroom.
Our new principal has turned out to be firm but approachable, not unfriendly, and his no-nonsense style is now generally appreciated. (Once I even thought I saw him smile.) He has trimmed the fat and made our school a much better place: Our test scores have even risen significantly since he has come.
Maybe a little military precision is what we needed after all.