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Local Principals Identify Current Challenges

Principal Panel - Matt Kartanata

Principals from Grinnell schools came to discuss how they entered their careers and address challenges they face as administrators.

Photo by Matt Kartanata

Lily Bohlke

On the night of Monday, Sept. 21, all five principals from the Grinnell-Newburg Community District public schools came to Grinnell College to speak about school administration. The panel included Grinnell High School principal Kevin Seney, Bailey Park Elementary School principal Brian Conway, Fairview Elementary School principal Sarah Seney, Davis Elementary School principal Jeff Kirby and Grinnell Middle School principal Sara Hegg-Dunne.

The Careers in Education Professions program asked the principals to participate in this panel to expose students to various careers within the education system, as well as to talk about the policies and politics of education.

“We’ve talked about teaching and nonprofit work,” said the director of the program, Ashley Schaefer. “But we haven’t talked a lot about administration yet.”

Schaefer stressed the importance of students understanding how integrated the work between each principal is. According to Sarah Seney, all five principals meet every Tuesday to discuss curriculums, managerial information and any other necessary topics.

Sometimes the superintendent, guidance counselors, school nurses or any other member of the school system join the meeting.

Another focus the principals put forward during these meetings is communication with the public.

“We try to get word out to parents and to the town about what we do instructionally and what goes on in schools so that there’s a good knowledge base of what we have to offer as a district,” Conway said.

According to Hegg-Dunne, if a parent comes to a principal with a concern, it is because they want the best for their child.

“They love their kid to death and they are going to advocate for them,” she said. “You have to put yourself in their shoes and accommodate them the best you can.”

Kevin Seney stated that the best part of the principal position is advocating for those kids and those parents.

“Parents are sending us the best kids that they have. They deserve the best we have,” he said.

One of Schaefer’s goals was to familiarize students on educational policies and politics and how those things play out in schools.

“With the election coming up, we wanted to focus on education platforms candidates have,” Schaefer said. “Principals are really the ones who have to handle those policies regularly.”

The state of Iowa is shifting demographically towards more affordable, rural schools. Poweshiek County has one of the shortest wait times for affordable housing and consequently Grinnell has an increasingly transient population, according to Kevin Seney.

“People know that they can come to Grinnell at 8 a.m. and possibly move into a home by noon,” he said.

District-wide, 40 percent of Grinnell public school students qualify for the federal government’s free and reduced price-meals, whereas 15 years ago it was only 15 percent.

“It’s exploded in the last 15 years, and it took us by surprise,” Kirby said. “Teachers have to adjust as well because different students in the room have different needs.”

Thus, school administration goes beyond simply education. The schools regularly check in with low-income students to ensure they have something to eat, clothes to feel comfortable in and school supplies. The principals stress, however, that supporting kids has been largely a community effort.

“Kids come in with broken glasses or glasses with the wrong prescription. I had a couple of kiddos last year who needed teeth fixed,” Kirby said. “When you ask the community for help, they step up and help these kids.”

As a principal, the five have found it possible to support kids in whatever accommodations they may need.

“Administration allows you to understand that you can impact so many children in the big picture of the school system,” Hegg-Dunne said.

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