Say “summer vacation” to a veteran principal and don’t be surprised when s/he responds with, “Never heard of it.” Sure, the academic year technically ends somewhere in the middle of June, but the job of a principal is ongoing and often just as busy during the summer. If you’re a new principal, you have even more ground to cover. To ensure that you don’t forget anything, we’ve put together a checklist of 10 things new principals can do this summer to prepare for opening day. Many of these come courtesy of Evan Robb’s book, The Principal's Leadership Sourcebook: Practices, Tools, and Strategies for Building a Thriving School Community.
10 Ways New Principals Can Prepare for Opening Day
1: Work closely with your predecessor
If you can make it happen, collaborate with the previous principal on a transitional plan. If school is still in session, see if you can schedule some time to visit classrooms or simply eat lunch with students and teachers.
2: Meet with your secretary right off the bat
There are dozens of perfunctory tasks you’ll need to take care of on the day you turn that door handle and enter your new office. The boxes and clutter can wait. One of the most important things you can do is meet with your secretary and get your hands on a copy of last year’s year book.
3: Start learning the names of faculty and staff members
Take the year book home with you and study it. Once you learn the names of your team, you’re ready to start meeting them.
4: Write welcome letters/emails to parents
It’s no secret that parental involvement is crucial to our students’ success. Start off on the right foot by sending out letters/emails to the parents. Invite them to drop by and spend time with you this summer. This will send the message that you are available and looking forward to meeting and working with them.
5: Repeat number four; this time address letters/emails to teachers and staff
6: Organize "Meet the Principal" sessions
Mid-July is a good time to start meeting the parents and getting to know those you have met better. Try organizing several "Meet the Principal" sessions. These should be informal gatherings where parents get to ask you questions and you get to do the same.
7: Manage your school budget.
Getting a handle on your school budget can be complex. Here are a few common finance pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t think you can meet all requests. There is a limit to how much money is available.
- Clear procedures are essential in order for the principal to review all purchase requests so that all the needs of your school are met.
- Allow teams or departments to decide what they need.
- Be careful about spending. The amount of money in a school's operational budget is set for the year. Effectively managing this money is critical.
8: Prepare for School-Fee Week and Back to School Night in August
Many schools cover the costs of consumable items (workbooks, art and science supplies, for example) through registration fees that are taken care of during “Fee Week.” Use this week as an opportunity to continue meeting parents—and be sure to remind them about Back to School Night or encourage them to join a parent advisory committee or volunteer at the school.
9: Meet every student in your school
Give yourself until mid-September to reach this goal, but make it a priority. There are innumerable ways to interact with students: try greeting students in the mornings as they step off the bus; attend sporting events and sit with a different group of students each time; visit classrooms; sit in on a ceramics class and spin some clay…whatever it takes to interact with students.
10: Prepare to be a public figure
Many new principals are surprised by how the job seems to follow them wherever they go. You may intend to interact with students during a football game; you may intend to be anonymous when you go to the grocery store or get dinner with your family, but you won’t always be successful. No matter where you are—in your office, in the bathroom, vacationing in Fiji—parents and students (both past and present) are going to spot you. Prepare yourself for this kind of visibility.