WAMU 88.5 : The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Evolving Job Of Public School Principal

Today's public school principals juggle a dizzying array of responsibilities, from teacher training and facilities management to school safety and community outreach. And the results of high-stakes student testing land on their desks, as well. So it's no surprise that many local school districts see high rates of principal burnout and turnover. We explore the evolving expectations placed on public school principals and their impact on school performance.

Inside The Death Of A D.C. Public School

By: Kavitha Cardoza


shaw middle schoolShaw Middle School in D.C. was one of the signature DCPS schools just a few years ago. But then its principal died, and it began a long downward slide, closing early 2013 due to low enrollment.

Shaw Middle School at Garnett-Patterson is located at 10th and V Streets, NW. DCPS created this school in 2008 by merging two struggling middle school programs, and hired a man named Brian Betts to become the school's new principal.

Under him, Shaw Middle became a symbol of the promise of education reform — a place that challenged conventional wisdom about urban schools, and inspired teachers and students alike to succeed. But in 2010, Betts was murdered, and critics say the school's unraveling in subsequent years says a lot about the larger problems within DCPS.

Alice Speck used to push her baby's stroller past Shaw Middle School.

"I met this man standing outside the school, greeting students, shaking hands with community members, and it was Principal Brian Betts."

She watched him, a Starbucks coffee cup in one hand, and offering hugs to those walking by. Speck was intrigued. Her son wasn't even crawling yet, but Betts invited her and other parents to talk about the school.

"We would have had no doubts of sending our children here," she says.

Former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee recruited Brian Betts from Montgomery County in 2008. Under him, Shaw Middle School became the face of the urban education reform movement -- what was possible when smart, motivated adults did the right thing by poor, disenfranchised children. U.S. senators toured the halls, a Harvard professor conducted a national study there, and for journalists, it was a regular pit stop.

"He made us motivated, and want to go to school," says Kimberly Fields. "You really wanted to go! We were like a family."

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