The Dog Days of Summer

A Principal Shares How She Prepares for the New School Year
Originally posted in the summer 2011 edition of The Leader

As a school leader and principal, Dr. Fatima Morrell has a wealth of knowledge about the education system today. A member of the Buffalo Council of Supervisors & Administrators, AFSA Local 10, Morrell discussed how she prepares students and teachers for a new school year and the challenges associated with it, including dealing with budget cuts, the importance of creating a sense of community and why education is so important.

AFSA: Tell us a little about your career in Buffalo. What are some of your more recent positions?

Morrell: I was a principal at Lafayette High School for three years and ended my position this spring. I am taking a new job this fall, as the principal at Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence.

AFSA: As an administrator, how do you help prepare students for the new school year?

Morrell: I invite students and parents to meet with me. I have a “Principal’s Coffee Hour,” where I talk to parents about what they can do to make sure their kids don’t lose the academic structure and information they gained this year. I make sure the parents understand the importance of their child being a good reader and a good listener. Students should read and write over the summer to not lose the skills they learned. It is also important for the students to get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast in the morning.

The schools belong to the parents and children. We serve the students with the best academic structure we can provide. There is a sense of community with the parents and students. We have a “Welcome Back Meeting,” where the parents can ask questions and become more engaged in the school issues.

Fatima Morrell said she is looking forward to her new job this fall as principal at Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence. Morrell is a member of the Buffalo Council of Supervisors and Administrators, AFSA Local 10

AFSA: Are there certain challenges, as a school leader, in preparing for the new school year?

Morrell: A lot of time is spent figuring out what are the best instructional programs to put into place that address the needs of at-risk students. Some of these at-risk students are ones not on track for graduation or have limited English proficiency skills. Another challenge is how to make sure the at-risk students get the classes they need to progress to an acceptable level of basic skills.

AFSA: Besides helping the kids, do you help prepare the teachers for the new school year?

Morrell: I’m here for the teachers and support them. Together, we can figure out the problems by working collaboratively in building a community of professional learners. I set targets and goals with the teachers. The key is that when teachers feel they have a principal that listens to them and when they feel they are valued as a professional, teachers will work harder. When this happens, it creates a sense of community. I want to work hard and I am willing to learn more. Principals never do it alone.

AFSA: Have any of the schools you’ve worked at as a principal dealt with budget cuts? If so, how did you work around those cuts?

Morrell: You have to brace for it and create a sense of community. We are all in this together. Collaboration has to be very strong to pull through together. I try to save staff and lead by example. By picking up the slack and doing an extra duty or two, the teachers and staff will see the principal going the extra mile, and as such, go an extra mile themselves. If the principal is doing more, the teachers think, ‘we can, too.’ People are inherently good. People go into education for the intrinsic value.

The sad thing about budget cuts is how music and the arts are the first things to go. That is tough. The whole notion of art and music going first is nonsense. Music helps students in math, for example. When these cuts occur, I try to get volunteer teachers to teach the students about art and music.

AFSA: Unfortunately, education has taken a hit recently around the country. Why should education not be cut during budget cuts?

Morrell: We live in a global society. What we are doing with education in our country pales in comparison to other counties. It seems that every time in America we are hit with hardships, education is always cut first. Then, we wonder why we have a low graduation rate. It’s ludicrous. We aren’t going to be competitive with other countries in the next 20 years and our students won’t be able to compete for jobs.

In urban schools, many students live in poor environments. Education is the only hope for these kids to have a better future. Cutting education is hurting thousands of students. We are saying to them that we don’t value your future. We won’t help you. We won’t give you the arts or after-school programs. We won’t give you money. It’s horrible to see us fall behind in education. Education is the key for a successful future. Save the schools.