Assistant Principals: A Direct Line of Hope

Dr. Scott Seaman, Executive Director, AWSP
Mar 11, 2024

On the left, a man in a suit sits with elementary kids. On the right, a woman hugs a a female elementary student.

School leadership is all about hope. Hope starts with the leaders who set the tone for the entire school through their beliefs about students, their belief in the adults working directly with students, and the belief that each and every student has a bright and promising future.  

Principals carry this burden of school-wide hope, but if they are lucky, they are not alone. While principals set the tone for the entire school, there is another group who are quite often working on hope from a completely different angle—our assistant principals. These unsung heroes are a direct line of hope to some of our most hopeless students. Our assistant principals have the opportunity to reach many of our students who don’t feel loved (at school or at home), who don’t have any sense of belonging in their lives, and far too often lack any vision of life in the future, yet alone where they might get their next meal.

When students lack love, belonging, and any glimpse of life beyond the day, it’s our assistant principals who answer the call. When relationships have deteriorated elsewhere in the school, who is usually first on the scene to speak hope into the student? The assistant principal. When a student is having a bad day, who is first to be called? The assistant principal. When life is spinning out of control, resulting in inappropriate behavior, who steps in? The assistant principal.

If you are a small school or elementary principal who doesn’t have an assistant principal, God bless you. You are reading this right now, knowing you are doing it all. If you are an assistant principal, I hope you hear and understand your role’s power and impact. Our most hopeless population of students needs you. You are their direct line of hope. You, in many cases, might be their only line of hope.

As we look at the disparities and inequity of resources across the education system, one key indicator of hope remains crystal clear. Schools that are adequately funded and staffed with assistant principals have more direct lines of hope for kids than those lacking this precious resource. Until the system can adequately fund and staff other necessary adults to build relationships with students like counselors, social workers, therapists, etc., assistant principals are truly our only hope.

What does this look like in practice? Picture for a moment a tale of two schools. Both have 700 students. One has a principal, two assistant principals, two counselors, and a dean of students. The other has just one principal and a counselor. Same number of students, two totally different feelings of hope in the school for students and staff. I wish this were just a fictitious example, but unfortunately, it’s a reality for way too many schools across our state.

While policymakers and other stakeholders continue to debate how to best fund education, many of our schools are barely hanging on. Hope can’t wait. Our students need hope now, and the easiest way to address hopelessness is to provide more direct lines of hope through the addition of more assistant principals across the system. If we don’t act soon, we run the risk of losing more of our great principals who are also barely hanging on. And we all know how important consistent leadership is to the entire school community.

As we look ahead to National Assistant Principals Week (April 1-5), let’s take time to reflect on the crucial role assistant principals play in our education system and where we’d be without the hope they bring to our students each and every day.

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