Reflections from “Principal for a Day 2018″

November 9th, 2018

Category: News

Every year, the Rodel Team participates in  Principal for a Day, a long-running program from The Partnership, Inc., where they spend the day in a Delaware school carrying out the daily responsibilities of a principal. Check out a brief summary of some of the team’s visits and their lessons learned below.

Rachel Chan, Senior Program Officer
Principal: Gail Humphreys-Mackenzie
School: Richardson Park Learning Center (RPLC)
District: Red Clay Consolidated School District

I had a great day at Richardson Park Learning Center (RPLC) with Principal Gail Humphreys-Mackenzie meeting students, touring the building, and hearing how the staff works together to tackle challenges and encourage one another.

RPLC is home to a variety of education programs and specialties for some of Red Clay Consolidated School District’s youngest learners. Whether through the Early Years Preschool program for students with special needs, the K-5 autism program, or any of the various therapy services offered, the students at RPLC clearly benefit from truly individualized instruction to support their unique learning goals.

With seven sites similar to RPLC throughout the district, I am amazed at how Principal Humphreys-Mackenzie and her team figured out a way to stay organized and energized throughout the school year.

Thank you Principal Humphreys-Mackenzie and everyone at RPLC for hosting me for this year’s Principal for a Day.

Neil Kirschling, Senior Program Officer
Principal: Anthony Bolden
School: Anna P. Mote Elementary School
District: Red Clay Consolidated School District

Nearly half of the students at Anna P. Mote Elementary are English learners and participate in a Spanish Immersion program alongside native-English speaking students.

In this program, students alternate between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking instructors, who coordinate their lessons to maximize learning. Research shows many long-term benefits of language immersion education, including cognitive skills, academic achievement, and literacy development.

But I was struck by something more immediate and touching¾an appreciation for other cultures. The walls were decorated with bilingual signs about respect and cooperation, as well as student-made profiles of the various countries of origin represented in the school.

As I sat around the lunch table and talked with the students, they were eager to tell me about their families, their cultural heritage, and their favorite foods and school subjects. Many shared that they have relatives still in Puerto Rico, Honduras, Mexico, and other countries around the world.

It was a great day spent at Anna P. Mote Elementary! I appreciated witnessing the potential and spirit of the staff and students.

Paul Herdman, President and CEO
Principal: Doug Timm
School: Carrie Downie Elementary School
District: Colonial School District

I had the pleasure of shadowing Principal Doug Timm of Carrie Downie Elementary School in New Castle. The day of my visit was “tie” day, which meant that staff and students could wear a tie or tie-dye.

When I arrived, Principal Timm was rocking his rainbow colored tie-dye as he gave high-fives to the students coming off the bus, raced down the hallways connecting with teachers, and made decisions about late buses on his phone. His personality was infectious. His warmth and humility reflected in the easy smiles that came to the students and teachers when we walked into a room.

As we visited few classrooms, I noticed that the school supported a very diverse group of students in terms of ability, economics, and ethnicity. Despite the wide range of differences and energy that comes with any building filled with over 400 students, I still felt a coherent culture within the building.

There was a sense of joy and love in the air as the students navigated online learning, played ukulele, and engaged one another in conversation in what is called a “responsive classroom.”

As someone who spends a lot of time trying to improve public policy related to education, this was another reminder of the limits of policy and the importance of relationships.

Madeleine Bayard, Vice President of Policy and Practice
Principal: Dave Distler
School: Eisenberg Elementary School
District: Colonial School District

Eisenberg Elementary has been a leader on many fronts. They are Delaware’s first elementary school with a wellness center and have a successful Reading Assist tutoring program. My Principal for a Day experience gave me some insight into the school’s keys to success.

  1. Leadership Many describe Principal Dave Distler as a “yes” person. He is known for working through challenges to get things done. Distler was a Relay Principal Fellow, a program Rodel helped catalyze in Delaware. The culture of using data, focusing on instructional leadership, and delivering effective observation and feedback for his staff are certainly evident.
  2. Celebrating and investing in the staff
    When I asked Principal Distler what contributed to the 75-percent decrease in the school’s discipline referrals, Principal Distler gave credit to a caring staff focused on developing relationships with students. The school also has invested in concrete, six-minute fluency strategies, and other tools for the staff, and it is paying off! The school has some of the highest reading and math scores in the district despite serving one of the highest-need populations.
  3. Focusing on the “whole child
    Beyond the wellness center, which is spreading to four other elementary schools, the school engages family members and is putting in place high-quality before/after/summer programming.
  4. Leveraging grants and partnerships
    The school and Principal Distler both put a high priority on leveraging grants and partnerships to support their students, including Reading Assist for intensive 1:1 reading intervention; PAL Center for afterschool; and other grants for music experiences and sports facilities.

Toward the end of the day, I asked Distler what else would help and we discussed many policy opportunities, including:

  1. Requiring early childhood development professional learning for elementary school principals
  2. Providing yearlong (or more) residencies for teachers in training. Principal Distler has hired almost all of the Eisenberg Elementary teacher residents from Wilmington University, indicating how much more prepared they are on day one than other teachers with less practical experience.
  3. More quality pre-K experiences
    Most of Eisenberg’s incoming kindergarteners have had no formal education experience. They do not know basic classroom expectations and most of them are registered right before the start or after the start of the school year, which Distler indicated causes challenges with teacher hiring, supplies, classroom set up, and more.
  4. Requiring all elementary teachers to have training in the science of teaching reading, a critical foundation to learning—and encouraging dual–certification in special education, noting that special education practices are really good practices for all students.

Rodel Foundation of Delaware



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