Steven Weber has been a teacher, a state education official, and a school district central office administrator. Now, having developed a broader perspective on education policy and government, he’s back in school as a principal of Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, N.C. Here he talks about how his experience has shaped his perspectives on several pressing education issues.
This is your second year as principal after being away for more than a decade. What have been the biggest changes in the interim that you now face?
During the past 10 years, working with assessment, curriculum mapping, standards, and supporting teacher teams provided me with a wide-angle view of K-12 public schools. Returning to the building level has allowed me to see things through a different lens. At the state department of education, my focus was on supporting all schools and teachers. As director of secondary instruction for a school district, my focus was on developing a professional learning community in each school and across schools. Implementing the Common Core State Standards, focusing on college- and career-readiness, technology integration, and supporting the whole child have been my focus as an elementary school principal.
We are seeing so many new teachers come into the profession only to leave after just a few years. What does that phenomenon look like at your school, and what has been your reaction to it?
The state of North Carolina has not provided educators with a raise in the past six years. It is difficult to put myself in the shoes of a first-year or sixth-year teacher. Several new and veteran teachers have second jobs to pay for student loans or to make ends meet. The U.S. needs to recruit and retain the best professional teachers. It will become increasingly difficult for North Carolina to compete with other states if elected officials do not make teacher pay a priority. Education is not a business that brings in profit at the end of the quarter. The profit is when students graduate fully prepared to enter college and the workforce.
What are you hearing from your teaching staff with regard to fashioning a Common Core compliant education for their students?
We were fortunate to have two years of professional development before implementing the standards. Our teams meet weekly to plan instruction, analyze student data, discuss how to support struggling learners, and analyze how to support gifted learners. Our teachers are discussing standards and assessment on a regular basis, and they are working hard to align instruction with the new standards. The standards aren’t a silver bullet; curriculum development, continuous improvement, transforming instruction and assessment, and taking risks are the actions that support implementing them.
With so much focus on either teacher evaluations or the Common Core, what in your mind’s eye is being missed or neglected?
This year, our school staff determined that we would focus on things that we can control. We can’t control teacher evaluations, new assessments, or the amount of state funding our school receives. Two things that are often overlooked in debates about public schools are the whole child and the 4 C’s. A whole child approach focuses on a school environment where each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. The 4 Cs include Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Creativity. Studies have shown these skills are lacking in high school and college graduates. We’re embedding these skills in instruction and assessment.