Kenwood Academy High School Principal Gregory Jones was featured in the March 10, Sunday Review section of the New York Times. The main focus of the column “Want to Fix Schools? Go to the Principal’s Office,” written by David Leonhardt, was about the important role that principals play in student success.
According to the New York Times (NYT) column Jones arrived at Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., in 2012 with an emphasis on first improving academics, then music, arts and sports.
As a result of Jones’ leadership, last year 94 percent of freshmen ended the year on track, up from 70 percent in 2011.The graduation rate reached 85 percent last year, up from 74 percent in 2012.
In his column, Leonhardt said curriculum, school types and teachers are often the topics of passionate debates about education but principals remain below the radar in these discussions.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the NYT that the national debate on education “is all screwed up.”
“Principals create the environment,” Emanuel said in the NYT column, “They create a culture of accountability. They create a sense of community. And none of us, nationally, ever debate principals.”
The ability to attract and keep good teachers and develop good teachers was also mentioned in the column as markers of a good principal.
In his column Leonhardt said, in Chicago, students, parents and teachers fill out an annual survey evaluating their principal. A local board helps to oversee each school and principal. Principals are also judged based on the progress their students make in reading, math and other subjects.
Janice Jackson, chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, told the NYT that principals are the most accountable people in the school system.
Jones, a Chicago native, was a teacher and assistant principal before taking over Kenwood, a neighborhood school that also accepts students from elsewhere in the city through a lottery.
In the column, Jones said being a principal is “stressful. You have to own it.”
Leonhardt’s column concludes with the statement that over the last several decades educators have found that teaching quality, empowered principals, more instructional time, extracurricular activities and school choice are what works best in education.