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Q&A: Principal of the Year Reflects on Job of Heading Up a School

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Last month, Janie R. Hill Hatton, a principal at Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, was named the first National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Before becoming the first female principal of Tech, Ms. Hatton had nearly 15 years' experience in education as a teacher, school administrator, and community superintendent. A native of Hot Springs, Ark., the home of President Clinton, Ms. Hatton was honored at the White House after receiving the national award.

She spoke about the principalship with Staff Writer Joanna Richardson.

Q. One of the highlights of your week in Washington must have been the visit to the White House. What did you and President Clinton talk about?

A. I spoke with him about some local things around my school, and we talked about investing in young people and educational programs. . . .

We also talked about increasing allocations to states, so there's more responsibility, dollar-wise, from the government. This would help some of the at-risk programs, the Chapter 1 programs, early-childhood education, leadership development, and professional programs for teachers and principals.

And I asked him, point blank, if I could be the principal who communicates with him on a regular basis.

I also told the President that inclusion ought to be a word that we operate from. We're a diverse community. We need to realize that, if one-third of America's workforce--men and women of all colors--continue to be ignored in the workplace, the education arena, and the decisionmaking arena, then America is a fool.

Q. Do you think your visibility will encourage more African-Americans, and more women, to go into educational administration?

A. I hope they have the opportunity to choose any field. I encourage my kids at Tech not to just get a job or be an employee, but to create opportunites for themselves and other people.

And I try to inspire people to recognize that America's educational agenda must be first--whether it's private, parochial, or public education.

Q. Why do you think you were chosen as the first principal of the year?

A. Because of my skillfulness, organizational leadership, risk-taking, responsiveness, and being an "action plan'' person. And simply for beating the odds. Many people don't believe that women can do certain things.

Q. What will you be doing this year in your role?

A. Advocating for education, primarily for apprenticeship and technical education. That's my first initiative. We must integrate these [programs] in all educational classrooms, because 90 percent of all the jobs in the future are indeed technical. I want to propose that people have apprenticeship programs as well as a solid, basic curriculum, because sometimes we've gotten too cute; we have to have a smorgasbord of classes.

I'll be doing some traveling, but I want to limit that because my school is the first order of business. I need to look at my first priorities: my own home and my school life.

Q. Can you tell me more about Tech and your students?

A. Tech is the largest high school in the city, with 1,851 students. But the building is like a dungeon. It's very unattractive, and its [needs are] unparalleled. . . .

It is in an impoverished neighborhood in the downtown area, where all the facilities are in very bad shape. The neighborhood is filled with social ills--gang activity, high crime, poverty, unemployment.

But out of that comes many excellent strands of learning. The learning environment, climate-wise, is conducive and very receptive to young people. We have students who have succeeded on many fronts.

About 38 percent of our students are African-American. Twenty-eight percent are female, but we're working to increase that rate. We have young women who have excelled in nontraditional trade and technical fields. Not in large numbers, but it's a beginning.

Q. How do you plan to attract more young women to the school?

A. We're going to increase and improve the way we recruit and go out and discuss technical education. We're going to unite with the women in the trades; we're going to unite with women working actively in affirmative-action programs.

And I'm going to hit the streets to talk in terms of why parents should take [advantage of] this opportunity.

Many times women are held hostage in their thinking because we allow people to tell us what we should or shouldn't do. And, quite frankly, the doors in the trades have not been opened for them.

Q. What would be your message to other principals?

A. Get politically involved and be aware of how politics works. Learn how to network, approach people, say what is on your mind. When you say something, have a plan. Be willing to take risks and be demanding.

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