New principals offer hope in urban schools
The Arizona Republic

Aug. 19, 2005

Just about everyone fondly remembers a favorite teacher.

But what about principals, those stuffy administrators who determine discipline and make morning announcements?

Personal relationships typically are not built with principals. After all, they have to watch over dozens of classrooms, not just dozens of students.

Still, they're leaders and, in one way or another, affect the lives of students.

I've been thinking about principals a lot, especially after reading ĦExtra! reporter Betty Reid's wonderful stories about the three urban Phoenix elementary school leaders beginning their first year on the job. Although Latinos and other minorities have excelled as education leaders for years, it's still refreshing to see some new people get their shot to head a local campus.

I've been one the first to criticize some of the local school districts for their bad classroom performances and their leadership for allowing sorry atmospheres to permeate. Roosevelt, in particular, has caught a lot of heat for shuffling low-performing principals from school to school.

So anytime I see new blood stepping into a leadership role, I want to believe it can only mean something good for students.

Hamed El-Afandi at Roosevelt's V.H. Lassen, Gabriel Garcia at Isaac's Joseph Zito and Deby Valadez at Cartwright's Holiday Park bring with them a fresh perspective, new ideas and a fire that hasn't been squelched by years of bad board decisions and bureaucratic baloney.

Their appointments are significant. Symbolically, it's just nice to see more Latino and minority principals in urban Phoenix schools where the vast majority of students are Hispanic. There's no sidestepping quality, however, and El-Afandi, Garcia and Valadez should know we will hold them and their bosses accountable for student learning and performance.

Still, I have no doubt they will do well. We need them to succeed. We want them to succeed.

As Reid wrote in her profiles that appeared in last week's ĦExtra! each principal had several goals he or she wanted to accomplish. They talked about "inspiring" kids and putting their campuses on the state honor roll.

And in some form or fashion - and this is important - they talked about connecting with parents and the community.

The days of simply running a school from inside its campus gates are gone. Ask the folks at the Isaac School District and they'll tell you teachers and administrators can't be isolated from the public. Not only do school doors have to be open, there have to be giant signs on them, in English and Spanish, to welcome parents and students in.

The demographics of west, central and south Phoenix neighborhoods are volatile, and schools are dealing with a high percentage of English-language learners, high student mobility rates and economic hardships many other schools don't see.

These three are not the only minority administrators out there, and I would be remiss not to mention that there are many, many other hard-working administrators in our schools helping students succeed.

It won't be all ice cream and Mickey Mouse days for this trio of new principals, that's for sure. But their courage and determination should be noticed, and I'm just flat-out glad they are going to be in a position to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Teclo Garcia is the editor of ĦExtra! and an assistant