Longtime NAESP Director Issues 21st-Century Challenge

By Linda Jacobson — March 31, 1999 3 min read
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Longtime NAESP Director Issues 21st-Century Challenge

Ending 18 years as the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Samuel G. Sava challenged members here at the group’s annual convention to design and build “a principalship for the 21st century.”

Mr. Sava, who is credited with turning the NAESP into a financially sound, and influential organization, described the changing role of school leaders and the complex issues facing children.

“My generation of principals--not realizing how lucky we were--could count on the home to function as a preschool, giving us a moral and cultural base to build upon when children entered school,” Mr. Sava told the audience at the opening session March 20. “Your generation of principals, by contrast, cannot count on the home as a preschool. Often you must supply the basics of literacy and behavior before you can even begin the work of formal education.”

Under Mr. Sava’s leadership, membership in the organization has more than doubled, from about 13,000 to nearly 28,000. And it has moved from rented office space to its own $4 million headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, will replace Mr. Sava on July 1.

Before Mr. Sava’s comments, President Clinton greeted the NAESP members by videotape. He reiterated a challenge to end social promotion--a position he made clear in January during his State of the Union Address when he unveiled his proposed Education Accountability Act.

Among elementary school principals, however, opinions vary on whether schools should hold students back if they don’t meet certain academic standards.

Florida is one state where the debate has intensified because of a new law that requires 4th graders to be retained if they do not meet standards according to state assessments.

In a crowded session during the four-day event, George E. Pawlas, a professor in the educational leadership department at the University of Central Florida in Melbourne, presented the results of a survey that was taken of elementary educators in four central Florida districts. The survey showed that among those favoring retention, 85 percent gave such reasons as “retention prevents failure at the next higher grade” and “retention provides the system with greater accountability.”

This year’s NAESP meeting included an emphasis on the fine arts. A variety of sessions were devoted to integrating art into the curriculum.

Teachers from Eisenhower Elementary School in Indiana, Pa., showcased a “living hallway"--a project that included drama and artwork to tell the story of World War II and the Holocaust. A hallway at the school was covered with paper and painted to resemble scenes from Europe in the years leading up to the war. Students acted the parts of historical figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Anne Frank.

At John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., 4th grade students teamed up with the Washington Opera to write an original opera about a former torpedo factory in Alexandria that is now an arts center.

And at Chavez Elementary School in Norwalk, Calif., teachers relied on artist-in-residence programs to blend arts into the curriculum.

“The arts will increase student learning,” said Chris Forehan, an area administrator for the Norwalk LaMirada Unified School District. “Our goal was to figure out a way to motivate kids to get into the academics.”

Mr. Forehan also commented that even though most states don’t hold schools accountable for how their students perform in the arts, he found that activities involving the arts increase attendance and thus give students a better chance of meeting standards in the core subjects.

Several of the presenters in the sessions focusing on the arts also stressed that such projects were ideal ways to get parents and other members of the community involved in the schools.

In another session, members of the NAESP’s Delegate Assembly approved several resolutions, including one that expresses the group’s support for recess and another that opposes children’s participation in door-to-door sales to raise money for schools.

Recess, a tradition in elementary schools, has been disappearing as school administrators strive to fit more required programs into the school day. A 1991 NAESP survey of elementary and middle school principals showed, however, that most administrators still believe recess has educational value, as long as it is well-organized and is supervised by adults.

The resolution approved by the members states: “NAESP recognizes recess as an important component in a child’s physical and social development. NAESP encourages principals to develop and maintain appropriately supervised free play for children during the school day.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 1999 edition of Education Week as Longtime NAESP Director Issues 21st-Century Challenge


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