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Saturday, July 19, 2014


I became a full-time school building leader at 24 years old when I accepted the responsibilities of a principal serving a K-8 learning community comprised of 330 learners and 35 staff members. As I reflect on that early entry into administration I remain more surprised now than I was all those years ago. Perhaps naivet√© would account for the fact I applied for the position without concerns that I was "too young" and lacking in sufficient experience. Nonetheless, I interviewed for the role and the superintendent and school board hired me after working two years as a teacher/principal at a 165 member K-6 school in another district.

That first leadership experience proved to be a challenging and rewarding opportunity. Maybe the best way to describe it would be to explain that it was analogous to a child learning to walk. I crawled and expended great amounts of energy disproportionate to the progress I was making. Optimism, persistence, time and effort were valuable resources that conspired to help compensate for the absence of past performance or well honed skills. I gradually gained my footing and some momentum to sustain commitment and achieve worthwhile benchmarks of success. Little by little, I eventually acquired confidence in my abilities and earned credibility by staff members who were much older, including several that had sons or daughters my age. But, I really had no indication of how I was doing as a principal. Although I met regularly with the superintendent, I had not been evaluated at all.

I finally made an appointment to meet the superintendent in quest of some feedback and any advice he might possess and offer. Following some chit-chat, I posed the question,
"Mr. Fairchild, how am I performing as a principal?"
He paused a moment before replying with a question. "Mike, did you get paid last Friday?"
"Yes, I did" was my answer.
"Well then" he offered, "Do you think we'd pay someone if they weren't doing a good job?"
"I guess not" was all I could muster in response.

End of discussion. It was as simple as that. Such was the state of assessing school leaders back then.

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