Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What’s it like to be a…..Christian high school principal?

If you have had this position for a while, how have things changed?What does my normal day look like?  Is it consistent throughout the year?

When school is in session, late August to early June, I am in the office well before 6:00 a.m., at school or school-related meetings during the day, at home for supper between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., and then back at school for the evening until 9:30 -ish p.m.

When school is in session, early morning time until about 7:15 a.m. is a wonderful and necessary planning time.  It is during this time I do short-term and long-term planning and take care of lots of correspondence.  Teachers and students begin filling the hallways around 7:15 a.m., and from that time until 4:00 p.m. I am “on” for running the high school.

Being “on” means being available to students and teachers throughout the school day using a “managing by walking around” style.  This walking around involves answering and responding to a myriad of situations, questions, phone calls, and e-mails, and being available to students, parents, alumni and teachers who stop in throughout school day.  It also means being a presence and observing the daily flow and interaction of a dynamic Christian community.  Education is touching and influencing lives and this can only be done by “being there.”

I am home to have supper with my wife from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m., and then I’m back again for the evening, which includes parent meetings, board meetings, and supervision of student and athletic activities.  Over time supervision of activities becomes more like “I really want to be there to support and encourage students and coaches and parents- it’s our ministry, I don’t want to miss out.”

During the summertime, I maintain school office hours from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., except for those times when I’m on vacation.  I am allocated five weeks of vacation out of 52 weeks each year.  Summer is filled with planning and preparation for the new year.

If you have had this position for a while, how have things changed?

I have had this position as Principal/CEO at Unity Christian High School for 27 years and have been a Christian school administrator for 36 years.  The number of after-school activities including athletics, parent meetings, and fundraising have increased dramatically and filled evenings and weekends.  When I started at Unity in 1982, we had 13 athletic teams; now in May 2009 we have 44 athletic teams, all of whom play after school, evenings, and Saturdays.  Choirs, bands, orchestras, and ensemble groups have increased from 5 to 12.  Student service projects have increased from 0 to 6 per year.

Also in 1982, we had only several fundraisers a year, which would last only a week or two.  Now we have multiple fundraisers which go five days a week, 12 months a year.

Christian high schools have changed from a places where a student goes for an education during a school day to a place where students essentially live.

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job?  How did you get to where you are now?

Upon graduating from Calvin College in 1970, I was drafted and served in the United States Army for two years.  During that time I served as the non-commissioned officer (NCOIC) in charge of chapel affairs at Fitzimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado—an administrative position requiring leadership and management skills.  Upon separating from the Army I taught 3rd grade for one year, then I became a teaching (junior high) principal for five years.  From 1978 – 1982 I was a superintendent of a K-12 school system with 400 students.  And from 1982 through to the present, I have been the Principal/CEO of a 9 – 12 high school with 750- 800 students.

What kind of training and education did you have?  What would you suggest?  What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?

My training included an AB in Education from Calvin College, leadership training in the U.S. Army,a a Masters in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University, Specialist work in Educational Leadership at Central Michigan, and a host (100-plus credit hours) of graduate classes, workshops, and conferences in business, finance, school law, psychology, sociology, human resources, administration and leadership.

A person should only consider being a high school principal if he/she loves being around kids and if he/she is thrilled to see kids learn and grow.  To be an administrator-leader of a high school, special knowledge and skills are necessary.  My best definition for a leader is:  “A leader is one who sees the future before and more clearly than others, and his or her success is measured by the time of his or her arrival and the number of people following.” A person needs to be well informed (knowledgeable) and develop skills particular to the high school community he/she serves.

Peter Drucker, management guru of the 20th century, says, “Conversation is the most important tool in a manager’s/leader’s toolbox.”  A high school principal must use conversation with individuals, small groups, and large groups to cast a compelling vision—keep the focus on the mission and show what a mission accomplished looks like.  This is done through effective communication, and it starts with lots of “walking around” and engaging students and teachers and parents in purposeful “conversation.”

What are the rewards in your position?  Challenges?  What makes a good day for you?

The rewards are seeing students learn and do well.  It is thrilling to learn of successful alumni and it is affirming when alumni acknowledge that their high school believed in them, stuck with them, and helped them to achieve what they have become.

The challenges involve all the human dynamics of keeping people working together to achieve the mission and to secure the funds to do the job well.
It is the joy of knowing that the mission of “empowering students with the knowledge and skills to live Christ-like in every aspect of their lives” is being accomplished.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5 – 10 years?

I see educational organizations being held more accountable to have all students learn well—the standards are being set high and will only continue to go higher. 

Although this can be challenging, it is as it should be—as educators, it is our goal to have each student develop his/her gifts and talents to their own potential.

How could a person find out more about your field?

Call a local high school principal and ask to stop by for a chat and schedule opportunities to shadow him/her for a day or two during the fall, during the winter, during the spring, and during the summer.

How do your beliefs and values or worldview perspectives impact what you do at work?

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I believe in my heart and profess with my lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And as a principal of a Christian high school that seeks to empower students with the same world view, the passion for how I seek to live my life is also the passion required for my position.  Being principal of a Christian high school is not a job or a career—it is a calling.  Instead of working to live, I live to work.  My work with students and teachers is an expression of how I choose to live as a follower of Jesus.


Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 05/19 at 02:19 PM

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