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Kansas principals make impact on school culture, relationships

Kansas principals make impact on school culture, relationships
Juggling long hours, building maintenance emergencies and staff and student issues, can all take a toll on a principal’s physical and mental health.
“We have to make sure they understand the need for wellness so they don’t burnout,” said Cara Ledy, executive director of the Kansas Principals Association. “It’s hard to raise a family and be an administrator. You have to figure out ways to balance home and work.”
National School Principals’ Day was May 1, a time to think about the important role principals play in the day-to-day operation and culture of a school building. Data gathered since 2021 by the Kansas Educator Engagement and Retention Study conducted by Dr. Bret Church, of Emporia State University, sheds a more positive light on the relationships between teachers and their principals.
According to the data, from 2021 to 2023, survey respondents reported some increased satisfaction with their principal’s communication and responsiveness to their questions along with their feelings about the quality of their principal. However, teachers’ feelings about the relationship with their principal remained the same over the two-year period.
Ledy said she’s “not surprised” the data is showing the relationships between teachers and their building principals is showing slight improvement.
“That’s a great foundation, a great starting point,” she said. “The base of that is relationships.”
Where the data takes a less positive turn, however, is in how teachers feel about becoming administrators themselves. According to the survey, 71% of respondents said they are not likely at all to pursue an educational administration role. Only 14% indicate they’re potentially interested in an administrative role but not likely.
Ledy said the stresses of leading a building along with the ongoing teacher shortage is adding to the shortage in those who want to become administrators, thus leading to the “greening” of educational leaders. This means there are fewer people taking administration jobs and many of them are working with less experience.
The Kansas City metropolitan school districts, Ledy said, are beginning to see fewer applicants for open administration jobs, a problem that has traditionally been seen in more rural areas of Kansas.
“We’re concerned about the pipeline,” she said. “That’s why we have to look at professional development and constantly looking to improve.”
Ledy said some of those efforts to improve are beginning to pay off. She said the United Superintendents Association-Kansas’ Aspiring Leaders program and the
Western Kansas Leadership Academy are two examples of getting educators ready for the next level of leadership.
“In Kansas, everything we’re doing intentionally to help create that pipeline,” she said. “I think it’s making a difference.”
Principals making an impact
Stacey Green, who is the principal of Stockton Grade School, Stockton Unified School District 271, said she does her “best to celebrate student and staff success all day long as I move in and out of classrooms.”
She said an idea she got from attending a National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conference was a “good news call of the day” which she said is her “favorite way to celebrate student success.”
“Staff members refer a student for the call,” Green said. “The student and I make the call home together to celebrate the accomplishment.” 
A leader in state and national organizations representing principals, Green said she is able to mentor those in the leader pipeline because of the mentoring she was given earlier in her career which has allowed her to mentor others.
“Recently a letter arrived from a mentee I worked with in the KELI program,” she said, referring to the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute. “The mentee shared, ‘Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself.’" 
Rick Rivera, principal at Augusta High School, Augusta USD 402, has found success in helping his school’s students pursue postsecondary goals through a variety of career and technical education pathways.
“We strive to expose students to a range of opportunities, preparing them to be college and career-ready individuals in our classrooms,” he said. “We owe it to our community and students to ensure they're prepared for success.”
Rivera said his school’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program is another path some of his students are using get themselves ready for life after graduation.
“Our dedicated teachers work to eliminate barriers, offering rigorous and engaging instruction,” he said. “Throughout this journey, students not only learn to advocate for themselves but also gain insight into diverse opportunities while developing the confidence essential for success.”
Greg Rosenhagen, principal at Cheney High School, Cheney USD 268, attributes his students’ statewide top 5 postsecondary effectiveness rate to his classroom educators.
“Our teachers have embraced a change in our schedule where our students are enrolled in 10 classes graduating with as many as 40 credits by graduation,” he said. “This meant each one of them took on a new class and in nearly all cases an additional prep.”  
Rosenhagen also points to his students’ academic achievements including this year’s graduating seniors having the highest ACT composite score in the past six years and significantly increasing the percentage of students in Tier 1 in reading and math on the FastBridge assessment tool. 
Ron Orsak, principal at Cheney Middle School, said both his school and the high school are seeing the growth in their assessment scores because of the culture of “belonging and positivity” they have cultivated in those buildings.
“I believe this is a huge factor in why we have consistently shown growth in our benchmark assessments (AIMS and FastBridge) from fall to spring over the past seven years,” he said.
Both Rosenhagen and Orsak said support and input from the Cheney community play a vital role in their schools’ success. Rosenhagen said he will have a team that will present at the United School Administrators conference titled, “Culture = Student Attitude + Staff Attitude + Community Support.”
Orsak, who will be the superintendent of Osborne USD 392 beginning this fall, said a good educational administrator leads with a team approach, including making decisions with input from all stakeholders, and setting a positive example for others to follow.
“Once expectations are set, the principal should be constantly and consistently seen modeling and meeting these,” he said.
Posted: May 2, 2024,
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