New Orleans Magazine: NSNO’s Principal Collaborative Brings School Leaders Together

January 6, 2021

The January issue of New Orleans Magazine hit newsstands this week and included the following sponsored article featuring NSNO’s Principal Collaborative.


 

“This is Exactly What We Need”

New Schools for New Orleans’ Principal Collaborative Brings School Leaders Together

Leading a school is an incredibly hard job. Leading a school during a pandemic is even harder.

In New Orleans, our principals have built schools that are warm, loving, and academically rigorous–with great bands, strong teams, and beautiful choirs. In the past fifteen years, they’ve more than doubled the number of “A” and “B” schools in our city. They have drawn on the strong cultures and legacies of our city’s public schools and developed supportive communities.

They are also overwhelmed. They are helping our children learn in incredibly complex circumstances. They are addressing the significant new stresses and trauma students face due to COVID-19. They are connecting families to services like healthcare and housing. And they are helping teachers provide an excellent education while avoiding their own burnout.

It is a great deal to manage. When we surveyed 85% of New Orleans principals, more than 70% said the work felt unsustainable.

That needs to change. Principals must feel able to stay in their jobs for years and years.

So, New Schools for New Orleans asked principals what they needed. Many of them asked for something incredibly simple: community.

They wanted to collaborate with other school leaders – to ask questions, share ideas, and come together to solve their biggest problems. They were facing similar challenges, and they’d get more done if they could face them together.

This was a clear, meaningful, and efficient way for NSNO to step in. While we work separately to address other needs – like more professional development – we launched The Principal Collaborative, an education community open to all principals in New Orleans’ public schools.

The Collaborative has met two times, so far, this year. In virtual sessions, they have heard remarks, engaged in question and answer sessions, and joined small “breakout groups” with one another, where they could collaborate more informally.

They have met with local and national leaders, such as Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Congressman Cedric Richmond, and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, as well as leaders on NSNO’s team, like CEO Patrick Dobard, and Chief Innovation Officer Alex Jarrell.

The conversation with Superintendent Brumley met a key need, as it centered around the latest developments in accountability standards, which have temporarily shifted in response to the pandemic. Principals had the chance to ask questions of Superintendent Brumley directly.

They have also heard from their colleagues, such as Towana Pierre-Floyd, the principal of Frederick A. Douglass High School, and Kelly Batiste, the principal of Fannie C. Williams Charter School.

“I think it’s important that we continue to have these conversations, be clear about what is important to us, because we know our “why”…I think it’s important that we continue to push the policymakers…by continuing to be in touch with them about what we know is best for our kids,” said Batiste.

Feedback on the session overall has been wildly positive.

 

So what comes next? Future sessions will cover key issues like teacher retention, and will be shaped by principals’ requests. Howard Fuller, the Distinguished Professor of Education and Founder of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, and John White, the former State Superintendent of Education, will also join us for events.

The Collaborative will also host a dinner in late May (with logistics depending on the state of the pandemic) to honor these great educators.

In these distanced times, community has become more crucial and harder to find. We are glad to help build it with our principals, and we are glad to help connect them. When they work together, our children win. One principal’s great idea about virtual learning need not stay in their building; another school can use it. Our school leaders are eager to share the local resources for mental healthcare their students and teachers are using, or the great curriculum they’ve put in place. Now, that is easy to do. They are not just sharing information. They are building relationships that ground them, empower them, and keep them able to do the job they love–leading our children.

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