School principals are like baseball umpires. When you have good ones, sometimes you don’t even know they are on the job.

You can’t have a good school without a good principal. (Or perhaps a site administrator, someone who takes responsibility when no one else does.) You may not know what a principal does. It’s easier to talk about what they don’t do.

And why are we talking about principals? Because we rarely do and this is National Principals Month. So it’s an appropriate time to acknowledge the importance of local school administrators who are equal parts educator, disciplinarian, manager and cheerleader. That was true before a global pandemic. Now you can add chief health officer to the list.

The role of principal varies by school, of course. Larger schools require a different kind of leadership than, say, a one-room schoolhouse. But there may be categories of responsibility that prevail for all school principals, changing only in scale with the school. The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium set six standards for principals to follow. We’re sure they sound familiar to every principal holding down the job on the coast:

- Creating and implementing a shared school vision;

- Nurturing and sustaining a culture and instructional program conducive to learning and staff development;

- Ensuring the management of school operations to produce a safe and effective learning environment;

- Collaborating with families and the diverse communities schools serve;

- Promoting integrity, fairness and ethical behavior;

- And interacting with larger political, social, legal, and cultural contexts of schooling.

Creating shared vision, nurturing a culture of learning, managing safe buildings, collaborating with families, promoting ethical behavior and being the primary point person for everything that happens on a school campus. Oh, and here on the coast, that likely means doing it in two languages. That is an unreasonable expectation that is met daily at Cabrillo and La Honda-Pescadero unified schools as well as Sea Crest and Wilkinson schools. Local principals are nothing less than the glue holding it all together.

Of course, sometimes it all threatens to fall apart. Sometimes we call on school principals to stand between taxpayers and teachers’ unions or between two students with a beef or between parents and instructors. These aren’t comfortable places. Further, there is no question the job became more difficult as COVID-19 coursed through the community. It’s hard to imagine navigating remote learning and testing for the virus and contact tracing and everything students and faculty have been through without imagining a strong, caring leader in the principal’s office.

So here is to the men and women who are the primary champions of our local schools. Thank you for maintaining nurturing environments for learning here on the coast.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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