Welcome Jeff GoodmanOne of the highlights of 2009 for me was taking advantage of the opportunity to participate in the “Principal for a Day” program, sponsored by the City of Phoenix’s Youth and Education office. When I arrived at Clarendon Elementary School, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I won’t go into a lot of detail about my day there (maybe you read my live-tweets that day?).  But, I’d like to tell you a little about how Clarendon is run.

I know the importance of a strong principal from previous years of experience working in Arizona schools. Without fail, the equation works like this: students are a reflection of their teachers; teachers are a reflection of their principal. Great principal = great students.

Sandy Meko, Clarendon’s Principal, makes that school great. Now, she won’t take credit for it.  She’ll tell you about her amazing teachers and incredible students, but if you see my equation above, Mrs. Meko leads them to greatness. She leads by empowering her teachers to do everything they can to provide the best classroom experience for their students.

Last summer, she told me, two of her teachers – completely on their own time and initiative – wrote grants to provide their students with better technology in the classroom. Students, on their own time, participate in acclaimed ballet and band programs.  In fact,  a Clarendon student won a role in Ballet Arizona’s production of The Nutcracker this season and the 6th grade band students compete on the national level winning trophies and excellent ratings. This is the result of an “above and beyond” mentality fostered by the principal’s office.  Everyone goes above and beyond what’s expected of them in order to succeed and excel.

There’s no question that it’s an uphill battle. Recent state budget cuts have tightened an already tight fiscal belt around Arizona schools. Regardless of your political leanings, you must recognize the strain placed on our schools. I watched Mrs. Meko in all of her roles: leader, educator, mentor, peacemaker, caregiver, detective and handyman. I watched her in her role as school CFO, as she paid $269 each to replace two standard projector light bulbs (each classroom has a projector, each projector takes two bulbs – you do the math).

It’s easy to place blame in our education funding crisis. It’s not easy to run a school during one. Many would settle for just getting by, but for others – like Mrs. Meko – getting by isn’t enough.

Sandy Meko, the students, teachers, and staff of Clarendon Elementary School are models of what it means to “Expect More.” They expect more of themselves and of each other. And, they expect more of you. They fight everyday to make their school the best it can be. What have you done today to support our schools?