The Role of the Secretary in Schools

Recently I read a few articles about the role of the principal position. One article quoted Jody Spiro (Wallace Foundation Director of Leadership)  where she stated, “It’s really been a neglected position. There’s no commonality throughout the country from district to district about what these people do. There are no standards of performance, no agreement about what the job is. No one has been really paying attention to it.”

Yet, research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation found links effective principals and student achievement. And principals who feel supported by their central administrations are happier, she said. “One of the things we’ve learned is how lonely the job of a principal is,” Spiro said. “No one else in the school has that position. The principal is responsible for everything that goes on in that building. And that’s lonely.” It’s a widely held belief that a talented leader is the key to a successful school.

Research shows that highly effective principals put a student’s achievement gains two to seven months ahead in a single school year—while weak leaders slow a student’s progress by the same amount. But how can schools attract and retain good principals? One education-policy think tank suggests that part of the answer may be making the role more like an executive and giving each principal a $100,000 salary raise. “In many small towns, the educators are already in the top quartile of college earners,” explains Todd Whitaker, professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the book What Great Principals Do Differently. “There’s no question that principals are underpaid. But a number that might make sense in New York City just isn’t the problem hiring in Missouri,” says Whitaker, who believes most principals would rather have a full-time assistant than a hefty raise. “It’s not necessarily even the hours. It’s the intensity. The truth is, if we gave principals an assistant or a lot more money, we probably end up giving them increased responsibilities and we’re right back where we started.” In other words, one way to fix the leadership shortage may be not increased salary, but additional funding for assistant principals, school counselors, and other administrative support staff. Principals are like all people with high responsibility, according to Kate Rousmaniere, professor of educational leadership at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and author of The Principal’s Office: A Social History of the American School Principal. They work better in teams, where they can share the workload.

After reading these articles, I thought about my response to the questions posed in the article. Would more money inspire me to become a better or more effective leader? More money is not the answer for me. I agree with Todd Whitaker’s idea having more support for school leaders. One way school leaders can be supported is having a true secretary or administrative assistant or both. I’ve had a secretary in previous schools but they end up having so many tasks heaped on them from the central office they are not helpful. Don’t get me wrong. Processing all types of leave for a school is important and must be done but shouldn’t be a full time job. If so, an administrative assistant could help manage the day to day operations of the school.

In order for me to be the instructional leader of my school, I have to be in classrooms every day. To be effective, half of my day needs to be devoted to visiting classrooms. Coaching teachers to help improve instruction is the key. Being highly visible also promotes high expectations for learning and behavior from all. With the complexities of managing a school, spending this much time in a classroom every day is impossible. In order to get the job done, long hours are spent after school catching up on the tasks neglected while in classrooms. An effective secretary or administrative assistant can help manage the day to day tasks to help the principal get the job done.


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