Derrick Maxwell, the principal of my high school, Cedar Shoals, announced recently that he would be resigning from his position to work elsewhere. This came as a surprise to me and my fellow students, as he was very well liked and appreciated by almost everyone. The word on the street is Maxwell was basically forced out of his position by Superintendent Demond Means. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know two things: 1) Maxwell is not the kind of person to leave such an important position halfway through the school year, and 2) Means has been very critical of teachers and school staff. Given the recent turmoil at Cedar, it would not surprise me if two plus two equaled four in this instance.
Regardless, Maxwell is yet another casualty in a greater problem at Cedar Shoals High School, and in the school district at large: We have an exodus of principals from their schools. I read news articles about many Clarke County principals leaving, and I am concerned. Principals are highly sought after people, and their sudden removal from a school can leave the institution in chaos. The lack of a sturdy figurehead creates the loss of direction and can be demoralizing to teachers and students, especially when the principal was as loved and respected as Maxwell.
I am concerned that part of this mass relocation may come from what Means says about educators and the environment that creates. Time and time again, we hear stories of him placing the blame for students failing to succeed entirely on the educators, completely ignoring other factors, such as home life and a student’s own willingness to learn, that can help or hinder a child’s success. In an editorial, Means wrote, “We cannot blame students for poor performance. The responsibility rests with us: the educators.” While teachers do hold some responsibility for how well their students do, Means makes it an all-or-nothing sort of deal. He sends the message that students hold no responsibility for their own success. It sounds like Means considers the teacher to be at fault when a student fails.
As the son of a college instructor, I know the time, effort and stress teachers experience as they work tirelessly to teach their students. Teachers sacrifice their time constantly to ensure all their students get the help they need. Telling teachers and principals they’re failing, not doing enough, and are wholly responsible for their students’ shortfalls is a mistake. If Means really wants to close the achievement gap, he needs to encourage teachers. Students can’t learn well when their teachers are demoralized and their principals are leaving in droves. Means needs to change the perception of his message and start building up teachers. He needs to make our school district a great place to work. Otherwise, the best we have may be the best we had.
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