Changing Principals in Newport- Mesa

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With so many transfers and hires of principals in the Newport-Mesa School District, I felt compelled for several reasons to share my experience with these kinds of changes. 


I can qualify myself as highly knowledgeable in this area from a training perspective and actual experience as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. 


I agree with the teachers that this principal and any principal changes need to be done with great thought because schools are all about people: children, staff, and parents. 


My dissertation study was entitled “The Principal as a Cultural Leader and the Change Process. As a first year teacher being assigned to a school, the principal was critical to my success. 


My first principal assignment was the toughest four years of my life. I was dumped into a school that was so fractured by their previous principal that the teachers and parents wanted to annex the school to another neighboring district. 


I was charged by the School Board and the Superintendent to get the school back on track or be fired like the man I was hired to replace. No encouragement from them, just threats.  When I got to the school and started uncovering the problems and issues, what I found were many outstanding professionals who had been beaten down by poor leadership, and a man who actually pitted the staff against each other to maintain control. 


I met great parents who were tired of a dirty campus, disjointed curriculum and instruction, and a lack of a fair and consistent behavior management plan. 


It took me four long hard years to overcome the years of neglect and damage done by one person’s leadership over seven years. Building trust, relationships, and organizational change does not get done in less than three years. Organizational Research clearly proves this.  


Schools are living organisms comprised of people who get to know each other well and highly successful schools know their parents, community, and students. It takes several years to get to know families and how to work with them so that a cohesive and productive environment can be constructed to meet the needs of staff, parents, kids, and community. 


These relationships develop over time, have to be nurtured, and are critical to the academic, social, and emotional success of students. With much stress, hard work, and long hours, I was able to change the toxic environment I inherited to one which staff, students and parents felt confident, proud and connected. 


This was done through collaboration, cooperation, planning, and shared leadership throughout the school setting. The teachers and parents put as much or more into this as I did once they began to see the vision for change and were included in the decision-making. It was a long a difficult road.


At the end of the fourth year when we were running like a well-oiled machine and ready for new curricular challenges, I received the dreaded call into the superintendent’s office with the news I would be transferred. Do you think that my staff and myself after four years of fighting through our changes needed to go through more change?  Was that the best for our school community who finally was ready to move forward and into the future as a cohesive school? 


We had come far enough to start considering applying to be a Blue Ribbon School and moving toward a technology lab that would have been the first of its kind in the district.  The parents had dropped their annexation suit against the district and were proud of their community school.  I was transferred and there was no discussion about the impact on the school or the school that I would be going to. 


I have worked in several school districts and have learned some very good and bad practices from each of my assignments. I worked for the Saugus Union School district as an Assistant Superintendent of Instruction. Nearly every school in the district had received Blue Ribbon School Awards. They did not move principals unless the principal asked for a change, or they had a new hire that was not working out in a particular community school. The principals were all long term by many years in each setting when I arrived. The district understood the power of the parents and the school working together as an essential element in school success.


The Irvine Unified School District has also been a consistently high performing district, and my colleagues who worked there had long tenures at their schools until they asked for an assignment change and or were promoted.  


After being reassigned as a principal twice and being considered to move for a third time I decided to quit being a principal. I had no control over my work setting. It was taking a toll on my health and there was no joy in being transferred and starting over. 


I got my doctorate so I could become a superintendent and support schools and build strong organizational cultures through sustained quality leadership at all levels within the school. That is when real change begins and continues. 


Do we need transfers? Sometimes, yes. Should we grant them to people who need change? Of course, but each one must be considered for the practical and identifiable reasons or they simply discourage and sometimes stop program implementation.


Think hard Newport-Mesa about what you are doing and why. It changes people’s lives and their opportunity for success.


 That is My Take


Gloria J. Alkire





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