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• An Aspiring, Newly-Appointed or Experienced Principal?
• Responsible for Supervising, Evaluating and
Professionally Developing Principals?
• Teaching in a university Supervision and Administration Certification and Licensing Program?
• A Public-Policy Maker or Parent Who Would Like to See How Effective High Schools Operate?

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A word from the Author

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All of the many professionals and support staff responsible for making a school function and operate well are “critical employees.” And so the intention of this book is not to diminish the essential contribution the entire school staff brings to the important task of preparing young people for the future responsibility of caring for our planet and its inhabitants. What I do want to achieve here, however, is a focused analysis of the unique and specific role of the principal as a primary influencer and contributor to the success or failure of a school, specifically – but not limited to – a high school.

As a superintendent I customized and streamlined several school operational/observation/ performance rubrics based on a school’s data. There is so much one can learn about a school and its true mission during some critical time-periods in the day – for example: the start of the school day, the lunch period(s), dismissal, and after-school. How does the school engage high- performing students, low-performing students and those in between? How about teachers who are approaching mastery, struggling teachers, ineffective teachers, tired, on-the- point-of- burnout teachers, and first-third- year teachers? What is going on (or not going on) in the library, science labs, career-counseling offices, varsity sports and clubs? And, of course, there’s the quality – and the quantity of the quality – of good and effective instructional practice. You could think of a high school as a giant ship sailing toward its mission of successfully graduating all of its students. This ship employs many different crewmembers who, individually and as a team, must give their best efforts and engage in best practices if that ship is to avoid the rough seas created by many external political stakeholders and also avoid the deadly icebergs of societal-economic challenges greatly impacting a school’s ability to achieve its destined mission. And at the center of this educational journey is the principal.

My thinking and reasoning for this book is: The captain of the ship – the principal, will either serve as an encouraging enhancement factor in the development of school-team excellence in vision and practice, or act as a distracting, discouraging, and terrible determiner for the school never reaching its intended academic achievement for all destinations. My hope is that this book inspires great school captains. For our children, and our nation, deserve no less.

Selected Excerpts From Chapters in the Book:

Excerpts from Chapter 1: The Ethics of the Principalship

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“Without a clear ethical code of behavior and professional practice, the voices and actions of professional educators will always be subject to the doubts of the public as to who we are and why we have chosen to engage in this great work. The absence of a non-negotiable and uncompromising set of ethical principles invites any and all (both the pedagogically uninformed and unqualified) to weigh in and, in many cases, make policies that drive and determine the practices of our profession. But we should not be upset with all of the external interference, for the professional ethical standards that should guide our work must start within ourselves.”

“I realized that being a first-generation 1950s’ Caribbean-American had a tremendous impact on the molding of my present worldview. For example, there is this structural foundational belief in the minds of many emigrants regardless of race, ethnicity, or nation of origin to stay focused on the reasons for uprooting oneself and traveling to a different country. There was a rugged individual-collectivism that was practiced by the 1950s’ Black Caribbean community in NYC that so powerfully influenced me.”

“Walking around the submarine, I wondered what public education would look like if we took such a serious approach to our work.”

“The public, at large, spends huge amounts of money on public education, only to see us produce mediocre results. And our only response to our lack of success is that we insult that same public by blaming society for not sending us the “best” students.”

“Principals who do not think that their personal histories influence their ethical, personnel, and policy decisions are deluding themselves, and worst, they are confusing and deceiving their school communities. It is like those professional educators who claim not to see race, ethnicity, color, or religion. This assertion is both disingenuous and dangerous to the emotional and educational well-being of the students under their charge.”

“Highly academic achieving Black and Latino kids can sometimes feel isolated and alone. These students need intellectual sanctuaries where they can feel free to practice their art as well as find others like themselves, coaches, encouragement, safety, and support. This safe place is particularly important for Black and Latino boys, who might spend an entire school day hiding their smartness by often engaging in deflecting and distracting self-destructive behaviors.”

Excerpts from Chapter 2: The Educational Philosophy of the Principal

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“Neither a title nor position will allow me (even if I chose to try) to escape from my own existential American reality. I am Black and born in a nation where my skin color is a societal identifier and constant underestimation of who people believe I am and what I am capable of becoming. All of the personal and professional titles I could ever accumulate in life—man, American, teacher, principal, or superintendent—will always be filtered through the lens of my skin color. I don’t like this reality, but it is what it is. And to borrow an assertion from one of my favorite authors, Ralph Ellison, I am both unmistakably visible and at the same time tragically and painfully invisible. It is like living…”

“Our Brooklyn, N.Y., Crown Heights neighborhood was a giant sieve that unfortunately trapped and destroyed so many of the young men of my era. The big lie I no longer tell myself was that I was some kind of super-smart and super-talented kid while all of those young casualties (my friends and neighbors) lacked smartness and talent. The truth is that I had the opportunity to express my intellectual gifts and talents and they did not; it is that simple. I was born into a family that expected, nurtured, protected, and encouraged a type of intellectual, spiritual, and physical excellence…”

“There was a 1950-60s’ universal NYC cultural belief that public schools should serve as a vehicle for socio-economic, “class” advancement. This cultural belief would extend beyond K-12 public schools to the City University of New York (CUNY) college system. This idea was deeply rooted in the practical and symbolic meaning of two famous NYC landmarks: Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty. There was this strong belief that NYC schools would give everyone a chance to overcome any unfair hand that was dealt by geography, family history, or society—that public education could successfully challenge and end any poverty narrative and break any family cycle of destitution…”

“A principal can avoid a great deal of pain, suffering, and disappointment if he or she takes the time to explore the ideas that help to frame his or her worldview. I look back now and realize that a great deal of bad decisions and mistakes I made as a principal occurred because I had not fully explored the historical and personal psychological forces from my childhood…”

“Make it stand on a firm ethical foundation while, at the same time, adaptive and flexible in order to respond to the dynamic nature of public education. Somewhere between the third and fifth year in the principalship, you will cease saying, “I have seen it all!” Further, as a school building principal, you will be placed in many situations that don’t easily lend themselves to statutes, rules, and regulations. The role of the principalship is to continually adapt and respond to new and different situations…”

What Professional Educators are Saying About The Book:

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As the complexities and demands of high-school principalship continue to grow, a book like RTTPO is essential for encouraging and supporting new and veteran school leaders. The author takes a detailed look at the many intricate aspects of the principalship, including the not so commonly known need for self-reflection, reviewing the ways in which our personal experiences have informed our practices. The vast majority of educational leadership books fail to discuss how our biographical stories can greatly impact who we are as school-building leaders, specifically how we respond to the many challenges we face, including the countless number of difficult decisions we must make every day. This overlooking and misunderstanding of our personal life stories, hopes and motivations — our principal-humanity — must be addressed. A failure of self-awareness can very much determine the success or failure of our school-leadership vision. Student learning is too important to jeopardize because we failed to examine thoroughly the origins, whys, and hows of our working theory of leadership. Thanks to this well-thought- out and thought-provoking book educational leaders now have a toolkit to provide direction and support for imagining how every department, place, purpose and plan in the school fits into our successful school-building leadership playbook. Our students deserve no less then our best commitment to their success and this book will help principals to fully discover and display the best attributes of an excellent commitment.

Damn! Powerful, comprehensive, needed, and contrary to page length, digestible. I was like that's a lot of a book for leaders, 500 plus pages, then I began to read is easily digestible and segment able - it does not have to be read in one sitting. Report to the Principal is a phenomenological leadership treatise that both invites and commands the educational leader to vision both the macro and micro designs in crafting a school all kids deserve. While focused on those core tenets of leadership in the high school principalship, Report to the Principal is adaptable and comprehensively insightful enough to open its lessons to those of any leader at the building level. A tapestry of the design, implementation, and the outcome driven state of leadership on the front lines or from behind the Principal's desk that at times is part is autobiographical and gospel, academic and practical, never too heavy and never too light but centered in that sweet spot of adult learning that has you taking notes and taking walks, reflecting and revising, humbled and inspired, resolved and recommitted in what some would argue is the greatest leadership position in our society - that which you have the power to transform and liberate our next generation of young people. A must read for every leadership program and graduate school of education in the US.

I have had the unique opportunity to work with thousands of some really great schools in two of the largest school districts in our nation (New York City and Los Angeles). And I can say without hesitation, that there is no one more singularly significant, and uniquely situated influencer for the success or failure of a school than its building leader—the principal. A good principal can enhance the good attributes of even a struggling school, while at the same time minimize and/or eliminate its deficiencies. With effective school leadership, teachers teach better, students learn more, and parents become those essential educational partners. This book to quote the author takes us deep into the “weeds of school operational leadership”; how to effectively manage the cafeteria-lunch periods, school security, the main office staff, building matainence, etc. But it also ascends pedagogically by challenging both prospective and present school administrators to reflect deeply on the ethical and philosophical foundations of their practice. The author skillfully weaves the operational and the theoretical into a formula with a single focused purpose—what do we need to do so that the children who for a number of years, are under our educational care, have a fair chance at a successful life after they leave us. Michael puts onto the pages of this book; those great school leadership qualities that I observed when I visited (his) Science Skills Center High School, Brooklyn NY in the 1990’s. But it also brought back memories of my own high school leadership experience; a wonderful reminder of why those of us who took up this educational calling, dutifully and honorably answered that call. So, you think you want to be a school principal? Well, first read this book, and then decide!

Michael Johnson succeeds in doing what books on educational leadership rarely do. Because it is so finely attuned to the full range of roles the principal of an urban public schools plays, this book offers the reader an incredibly useful, detailed examination of best practices. Through posing probing questions tied to specific areas of school leadership, Johnson challenges principals to continue to reflect upon what it means and takes to strive toward excellence. Report to the Principal is also an inspiring book. Johnson is a fearless visionary deeply committed to making good on the promise of our public schools to give all our children regardless of their circumstances a better chance to realize their dreams and contribute to our collective wellbeing. Along the way, the author shares with grace and clarity his own journey as principal and superintendent. Report to the Principal is an urgent call to action. Armed with a sacred sense of purpose Johnson pulls no punches. While he is acutely aware of longstanding societal forces that systematically disable and marginalize historically under-resourced communities, he presents a compelling, much needed alternative to deadening mediocrity and mindless complicity that all too frequently passes for school reform. Report to the Principal gives us all hope that equitable change and intellectual rigor are possible in our urban public schools, and that the principal plays a vital role in making this happen. Johnson backs up this deeply held belief with a formidable mix of moral courage, organizational genius and strategic intelligence. In so doing, he has given us all a gift.

This remarkable book is full of wisdom on everything from leadership philosophy to maintaining an effective nurse's office. I first met Michael Johnson in the early 1990s and was struck then by the boldness and humane intelligence of his educational vision. That vision has developed and deepened over the years and is distilled in this indispensable guide to school leadership.

As a former principal and school district deputy superintendent, I know well the ‘organizational hurdles’ that can either qualify or disqualify a school leader. Therefore I applaud your commitment to honesty and transparency as you explain the daily challenges of the principalship.  It is clear from reading this book that you brought a great deal of commitment and passion to this project, and to your life’s work in education. I read the book as I would a textbook that I would use with my graduate students, and it is clearly student and instructor friendly. Our nation’s schools are in serious need of great and exceptional school leaders. And so I hope that this book will find its way into many supervision and administration course syllabi reading list.

This book should be an essential part of every principal’s library. Michael Johnson has provided a school leadership resource that is beneficial for principals at all grade levels. He has created an excellent study guide for graduate students enrolled in Educational Leadership, Administration and Supervision certification programs, and those educators preparing to take a school administrator licensing exam. This book will also effectively prepare candidates for the school principal’s appointment interview process. Finally, Johnson’s book can serve as a wonderful self-directed professional development manual for presently serving principals. For it thoroughly outlines the critical day to day strategies and practices one needs to be a successful school administrator. I wish I had this great reference tool when I was a teacher, principal and superintendent.

Michael Johnson says his “book is a knowledge and skills mastery check-off guide for teachers and APs aspiring to become school building principals.” But it’s a lot more – it distills what Michael learned from running exemplary science skills after-school- programs, successful science-focused high schools, and as a very effective Superintendent of a challenging New York City community school district. As Michael details the principles and practices of effective school leadership he’s derived from decades of rich experience, his book also provides a detailed, engrossing profile of the daily life of a school principal. A must-read!

I approached my review of Report To The Principal’s Office from two very different, yet converging, and interesting perspectives – the personal and professional. First, I attended the NYCDOE high school where the author served as my principal. And now I am presently serving as a NYCDOE school principal. This reading approach gave me the unique opportunity to connect the four-year experience of my high school student-self with my present professional educator/supervisor/administrator knowledgeable self – and further to compare and contrast these experiences with the theoretical ideas Mr. Johnson presents in this book. The student analysis allowed me to view and understand RTTPO’s many strategies, initiatives, polices, and pedagogical principles as they were actually implemented in real-time and with real people, in an actual school building.

My second line of inquiry and assessment provided me with the opportunity to study the book in the context of the real and practical daily challenges I face as a principal. My school is filled with students depending on me to make education a path that will allow them to create present and future positive outcomes in their personal lives. And amazingly, I found in my reading and reflection that the leadership and inspirational concepts that planted the seeds of my becoming a professional educator 20+ years ago are clearly, and with great detail, outlined in this book. Most important, these ideas are very relevant and connected to my present school-leadership practices.

This book has inspired me, as it will every principal, to think deeply about our duties and responsibilities, not just as the school-building leader, but also as a possible career-aspirational role model. It is rare to hear one of our students’ say, “I want to be a principal when I grow up,” (I know as a teenager I did not think of becoming a principal!) But as principals, we should be clear – our language, work style and philosophy, our ability to care for and inspire parents, students and staff, our high expectations for the entire school family – are being closely observed. Every day witness is borne by a future generation of citizens, parents, workers, professionals, civic and public leaders, and yes – maybe even by a future principal!

Susan Cleveland

High School Principal
San Antonio, TX

Darian C. Jones, PhD

Founder / CEO
Sankore' Prep

Ray Cortines

Former Chancellor of the NYC Public Schools; as well as once serving as Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Frank Pignatelli, Ph.D.

Bank Street College of Education (retired)
Author of: Practicing Freedom: Progressivism in the Age of School Accountability. And With Susanna W. Pflaum: Experiencing Diversity: Toward Educational Equity; and Celebrating Diverse Voices: Progressive Education and Equity (Thought and Practice series).

Mike Rose

UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
Author of Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America and Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us.

Sheila Jackson

Virginia Department of Education
Office of School Improvement (OSI)

Althea Serrant

Former Teacher, Principal, Superintendent and now a School Improvement/Principal Coach based in Georgia

Norm Fruchter

Deputy Director NYU Metro Center
Author of: Urban Schools, Public Will: Making Education Work for All Our Children; and with Carol Ascher: Hard Lessons: Public Schools and Privatization (Twentieth Century Fund Report)

Shonelle Hall

Principal, P.S./I.S. 41
Beautiful Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York!