Last week, I had the unique opportunity of being invited back to the U.S. Department of Education for “Principals at ED,” along with ten other principals. We spent the day at the Department, fondly known as “ED,” meeting with Secretary Betsy DeVos, interacting with senior career leaders, including former interim Secretary Phil Rosenfelt and Acting Deputy Secretary Joe Conaty, and learning from policy and communications staff.
I was honored to serve as the Principal Ambassador Fellow in 2015-16. Now, as a principal, I again face the day-to-day realities of the students who keep me up at night and the overwhelming task of ensuring that all of our children succeed. The ability to take a step back and look at education from “3,000 feet high” helps ground the day-to-day work in which all school leaders are engaged.
Last year, when I interfaced with other educators, many of them didn’t think their voices mattered. Yet when they saw that folks were listening, it made a huge difference. Principals shared how they returned from their time at ED reinvigorated and ready to tackle the hard work ahead of them.
Here I am, a year later, back in the role of a principal visiting the U.S. Department of Education. To be honest, I was nervous about returning to meet with the new leadership. I will say upfront that I don’t always see eye-to- eye with the Secretary on many stances, but she listened to what we had to say. We are all here to educate our nation’s children. This is why we all do this work. The fact that ED once again opened its doors to us signaled that the leadership is willing to listen to educators and that they value the experience and perspective we bring. This gives me hope.
During this day, we advocated for the importance of teacher and principal mentoring and professional development. We shared what we thought was the best way to invest in schools. We found common ground and had varied opinions. I am grateful that ED opened its doors to principals. I hope these doors remain open, and we can continue to dialogue.
Ultimately, educators are the “silver bullets”—the problem solvers—who can powerfully address today’s challenges in education, as my colleague Sharif El Mekki shared. But we aren’t born silver bullets; we need to be supported and strengthened, and when the investment and support are there, we can make all the difference in a child’s future.
My advice to ED is: continue to talk to these problem solvers. Find out what makes teachers and principals shine and what makes them effective. Then take those ideas and put them to work.
Alicia Pérez-Katz is the Principal at Baruch College Campus High School and was a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the US Department of Education, 2015-16
More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/albums/72157682166397025