New leaders have difficult, uncertain futures
August 29, 2008
By Jay Bullock
I have occasionally been asked whether I want to be a school principal, and the answer is always an emphatic no: I don’t have the temperament to deal with the challenges and struggles that I see principals dealing with every day.
Four Bay View schools have new principals this month: Robin Kitzrow at Bay View High School, Karen Nastulski at Fritsche Middle School, John Sanchez at Fernwood Montessori, and Manuela (Mimi) Soto at Tippecanoe K-8. Though each seems capable of meeting those challenges, I don’t envy what some of them face.
The task force hopes to give Tippe’s popular program room to grow-the school currently has a waiting list of about 30 students.
“The budget,” Sanchez said right away, when I asked him what his biggest challenge would be. “Fernwood has become a safe place to go,” he said, “and I want to extend that.” To do so, though, he needs money for after-school programs.
Sanchez also hopes to bring more technology into the school, and to make Fernwood’s greenhouse a more integral part of the community.
The other new leaders face even tougher challenges. Kitzrow was blunt in her assessment of what Bay View High School needs: increased proficiency test scores. She has a plan to do that first through, as she put it, some “systems and structure.” BVHS opens this fall with a new, tougher tardy policy and strict rules for students to wear ID cards at all times.
Kitzrow hopes to recapture some of what worked at her previous school. “My ‘Aha!’ moment at Fritsche was to make the students take charge of the mission and vision,” she said. Once students have ownership and take leadership roles in the building, Kitzrow told me, “you create an environment where kids can learn.”
Kitzrow also plans to supervise instruction very closely.
Nastulski, at Fritsche, worries about the perennial problem of declining student enrollment. Fritsche’s ability to offer a full range of programs, particularly in the arts, is dependent on keeping students coming to the building.
If the recommendations of the Bay View Area Schools Task Force make it through the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, Nastulski will also face the challenge of shepherding Fritsche through an expansion that will eventually create a 6-12 school housed in the Bay View High School building.
Tippecanoe’s Soto faces a similar conundrum: She hadn’t even spent one official school day in her new school when the task force voted to merge Tippe with the program at Dover Street School, creating an arts-focused K-5 in Dover’s larger building.
The task force hopes to give Tippe’s popular program room to grow-the school currently has a waiting list of about 30 students, according to Soto-and Soto is certainly committed to keeping the arts focus strong in Bay View schools. Her daughter attended Elm Creative Arts and Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, so she understands how important it is to have vibrancy and continuity in the arts in a community.
As I wrote above, I do not envy the pickles that these fine folks find themselves in, and the uncertainty and difficulty they face. In particular, Karen Nastulski and Mimi Soto have an extra sour pickle.
They are technically not principals, but rather APICs-Assistant Principals in Charge. APICs have all the responsibilities and abilities that principals do. However, according to MPS Director of Communication Roseann St. Aubin, the APIC designation is really designed as “an opportunity to review and evaluate the APIC’s initial work and fit” into a school’s program and community, kind of like an extended audition.
It seems to me that the district’s placing two APICs in charge of schools that were likely to be affected by the task force’s recommendations is the superintendent’s way of treading water until the Bay View cluster schools have a complete new design.
Nastulski’s history as a teacher and administrative underfill at Fritsche make her an ideal choice to fill that role. Soto, too, has a background that will be helpful, having been a mentor both for new teachers, through a district program, and for struggling veterans, through the teachers’ union’s innovative TEAM program. In short, both seem capable of handling whatever happens and making the best of their situations.
They could probably still use a lot of support from the rest of us, though.
Bullock is a Milwaukee Public Schools English teacher at Bay View High School with a blog at folkbum.com. Contact him at email@example.com.
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