Problem-solving principals: Take a page from their playbooks

Here are the details on dozens of innovative ideas around curriculum and instruction, accelerating community engagement and boosting teacher quality.

Innovation is a driving force for many principals and superintendents—but they don’t have to do all of the innovating on their own. Whether it’s enhancing curriculum and instruction, accelerating community engagement or boosting teacher quality, there are principals and other K-12 leaders out there who have some solutions to share as building leaders strive for continuous improvement.

A goldmine of innovative ideas is now available from a “Listening and Learning Tour” undertaken by former longtime principal and National Association of Secondary School Principals president Gregg Wieczorek, who recently visited schools in every state looking for low-cost initiatives to overcome the common challenges faced by K-12 educators.

Wieczorek says the various programs reminded him of one of his own innovations: He bought a portable desk that he could move out in front of the school so he could continue to work while greeting arriving students each morning. “Many of the innovations I saw don’t cost a lot of money—many are less than $1,000 or even free,” Wieczorek adds. “It’s more a matter of innovation and commitment to making your school better.”

Here’s more detail on some of those solutions in key areas:

1. Student-focused curriculum and instruction

Custom vs. Traditional Education

Harrisburg High School, Harrisburg, SD (Harrisburg School District)

Brad Seamer, Associate Principal

Students can choose from two separate tracks of learning in the core areas. On the traditional track, the teacher leads all students at the same pace. Students on the custom track work at their own pace, with the teacher facilitating.

2. Making connections for students

Painting the Bus Lot Like a Football Field

Cleveland High School, Rio Rancho, NM (Rio Rancho Public Schools)

Scott Affentranger, Principal

To give the marching band a place to practice without interfering with athletic teams or P.E. classes on the football field, the school painted football field markings on the bus parking lot. This lets the school band practice their routines anytime (except right after school when the buses are parked waiting for students).

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3. Social-emotional/mental health

Mad Minute

Piper Middle School, Kansas City, KS (Piper USD 203)

Steve Mercer, Principal

In the middle of each semester, the counseling team visits classrooms and has a short conversation with individual students to see how they are doing. The counselors ask a series of questions to determine if the student needs extra academic or emotional support. They also assess schools as a whole to determine if a large number of students are having similar problems.

4. Teacher preparation

Educational Practicum Class

Holmen High School, Holmen, WI (Holmen School District)

Wayne Sackett, Principal

The educational practicum class is designed for students interested in becoming educators. The class explores all aspects of teaching, and students serve as teaching assistants in elementary schools.

5. Connecting with communities


New Albany Middle and High School, New Albany, MS (New Albany School District)

Lance Evans, Superintendent

IMPACTO, which stands for Industry as a Means to Prepare for Academic, Career, and Technology Opportunities, is a two-year career exploration program for juniors and seniors. The district funds 100-hour internships at local businesses, for which students are paid $8.50 an hour. Students not only get on-the-job training but many get hired when they finish the internship. The program has attracted more than 70 business partners.

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6. Advisory time

Black Student Achievement

Atholton High School, Columbia, MD (Howard County Public School System)

Robert Motley, principal

The school employs a liaison whose sole purpose is to help Black students bridge opportunity gaps. The students work one-on-one with the liaison to ensure they taking advantage of all the school offers.

7. Student recognition

Signing the Principal’s Graduation Gown

Murray County High School, Chatsworth, GA (Murray County School District)

Gina Linder, Principal

When Linder took over 11 years ago, the graduation rate was 58% and educators focused primarily on preparing students for postsecondary education. To stress the broader importance of graduating, Linder allowed graduating seniors to sign the gown she wore during commencement. Each of those 11 gowns now hangs from the cafeteria rafters, and last year’s graduation hit 96%.


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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