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A Bad Principal: How One Affected a School's Culture

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.

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It shouldn't take a bad principal to prove how important leadership is at schools

June 21st: this was an important day for students and teachers. The Class of 2012 marched down the football field at Lenore High School* to receive their ceremonial diplomas. The teachers turned in their final grades, cleaned their classrooms, packed up their supplies, and headed out the door to start their vacation.

However, this joyous day was made even sweeter for the faculty and staff. Dr. Robert Stone*, the school’s contentious principal for the last three years had resigned his post. He had decided to take an administrative position in an Orange County school district. Many Lenore High teachers couldn’t hide their elation.

For three hard years, teachers, counselors, and administrators at this school had to contend with boorish behavior, favoritism, disparaging e-mail comments, bullying, and shady practices from their leader. His tenure at the school was marked by involuntary transfers of teachers, the near dismantling of special education, resignations, and the loss of nearly half of its students to other schools.

The situation was so dire that nearly 90% of the teachers and counselors at the school gave him a vote of no-confidence in a specially held union referendum last year. Also, he earned the ire of officials at the district office who grew tired of the numerous complaints and grievances filed against him.

Now, this bad principal was leaving on his own accord. And he did so at the right time. Lenore High – a perennially low-ranked school in a economically depressed area of Los Angeles County – was posting some of the highest test scores and graduation rates in years. **

Still, the animosity could not be ignored. He had worn out his welcome a long time ago and many teachers were happy to see him leave.

He dressed and acted the part of a leader when placed in a public setting. He gave great speeches to faculty, staff and the students

Lenore High School’s dilemma illustrated something that is rarely mentioned in talks about school reform: leadership at the top. And, these leaders have to have certain qualifications:

  • the ability to communicate clear goals and objectives to faculty;
  • form professional relationships with them;
  • lead by example or model appropriate behavior and action;
  • utilize and accept opinions; the ability to resolve conflicts;
  • address everyone in a professional matter;
  • use fair and appropriate discipline when needed;
  • be consistent; and
  • be decisive.

Simply put, ineffective leaders lack most if not all these qualities. Additionally, they can be too passive or too aggressive. In other cases, their intentions mired in obscurity.

There were some distinctions Dr. Stone had. He dressed and acted the part of a leader when placed in a public setting. He gave great speeches to faculty, staff and the students. In addition, he always appeared lively and friendly. Most of all, he was decisive -- even if the decisions he made were simply wrong for the situation.

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So What Did He Do Wrong?

However, in private, he was a different person. There were several examples of his real self:

  • Told a teacher to “shut-up” in front of staff members (a rarity considering being upfront and personal was not his style).
  • Abused the school’s e-mail platform to retaliate against teachers (since he had a hard time confronting teachers in person)
  • Disparaged teacher by belittling their professionalism, intelligence, and dedication. In many cases, these e-mail comments went out to everyone in the school, thus embarrassing the teacher before his or her peers. A teacher once stated: “He talks about the evils of bullying, yet he is biggest one of them all.”
  • Turned down, ignored, or blocked requests from teachers, especially pertaining to supplies without any explanation given. In addition, he blocked transfer request (a record number of teachers wanted to leave the campus).
  • Did a vanishing act. The amount of time spent on campus decreased during his tenure. He spent much of his time at the district office complaining about the teacher’s union or was in his office on campus with the door closed. He mostly communicated to the staff and students through a PA system or his favorite – emails. As one teacher put it: “He administers from behind the desk.”
  • Childish behavior. According to a union representative, he held grudges against those who criticized him, and he never put it aside. The union president saw this behavior first-hand when Dr. Stone slammed his office door in his face after delivering a batch of teacher complaints to him. The relationship between the two never thawed after that event (not even a handshake was given).
  • He was arrogant. I learned that some of his classmates (who happened to be administrators in my district) in his educational doctoral program had no love from him (that included the USC instructor) for literally stating he’s “the smartest person in the program.”Simply put, he took credit for rising test scores, attendance and enrollment in honor’s program**. In addition, he made sure the local newspapers knew it, even if he was not responsible for the school’s success (much of this was due to real work and leadership from the administration and staff that were there before he arrived).

Dr. Stone’s departure will not be missed. By the time June of 2012 arrived, most teachers at Lenore High School and other campuses in the district (his reputation was that bad) wanted to disassociate from him.

His Departure

This list can go on and on. Aside from the personality issues, Dr. Stone had done other things that brought his ethics into question as well. He ignored the provision stated in IEPs (Individual Education Plan) for students with learning disabilities. He went against district and state protocols to place these students (some with reading ability at a 3rd grade level) in honor courses. And then, he sent an e-mail instructing teachers to not give any students a failing grade. On top of all that, he purposely short-changed supplies to teachers he didn’t like, and forced many others to teach curriculum they were not trained or credentialed to do so (this was particularly true for the special education teachers).

Dr. Stone’s departure will not be missed. By the time June of 2012 arrived, most teachers at Lenore High School and other campuses in the district (his reputation was that bad) wanted to disassociate from him.

Possibly, one district office administrator summed it best when talking about Dr. Stone: “He was difficult to work with and he lacked people skills.”

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Update: New School, Same Behavior

As of 2015, The principal in question has moved on to a new school district. This time, he's at a larger district and at a larger high school. However, this hasn't changed his old ways. Recently, somebody posted a critique on a teacher-rating site, in which he was harshly judged. There are two comments to accompany the ratings.

One stated that he was pushing students into AP courses without taking the initial exams to qualify in order to get federal funding.He did this at my school. Mysteriously, special needs students were enrolled in AP courses. And, unsurprisingly, they failed miserably. The critique also claimed that he was "bullying students."

He has also been accused of mismanaging and bullying teachers, too. Newspapers such as Long Beach Press Telegram and other small local papers in Downey, La Mirada, and Norwalk reported of an incident in which he inexplicably moved a teacher from her classroom and students to a new one.

Again, this he made similar moves at my school. In one case, he moved a teacher who openly defied him to an inferior classroom (one with no technology and no windows).

The also stated that the teacher at the new school tried to communicate with Dr. Stone. He never returned her messages and remained silent on the matter. Surprisingly, he didn't say anything to local newspapers as well. That's a change, while at my school he utilized local media all the time.

Update 2019: New Position, Unfortunately

The person who inspire the Dr. Stone in this article, left his position as principal in one district. This can be considered good news for the teachers and administrators who worked at his now former school and district. But, it's disturbing news for his new district and for area school districts.

He is now an assistant superintendent for a large district. As a result he has more power to abuse those under him. It also sets a poor precedent for public education in the area. He enters this position with red flags and a poor reputation; however, he managed to snag one of the highest, non-elected position one can obtain in a school district. It also means he can have more sway in school board meetings.

The citizens and parents living in this district can demand changes in the next board election. They can, at least, vote out those responsible for making such a bad hire. However, with an average of 10% voter participation when it comes to local elections pertaining to public school board members, it's a possibility he will be in this position for a long time...or possibly be moved up to superintendent (depending if the district votes directly for one or has board members appoint them, as they do with assistant superintendents).

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Notes

* The name of the school and the principal has been changed.

** The school Lenore High School was based on had gone through several years of leadership changes. In the year before Dr. Stone’s arrival, the school went through two principals. Also, in 2010, the district feared that the state was going to take over the school. As a result, the district initiated a controversial move in which teachers from Lenore and the other schools would be involuntarily transferred. Part of the idea was to remove some of the teachers and bring in more “qualified” teachers. It was possible that the tactic was supposed to give Dr. Stone some teachers he can work with. It didn’t matter, he still alienated those who were involuntarily transferred.

**Much of the changes that had positive effects on Lenore High School actually started well before Dr. Stone arrived. Due to school choice measures passed in the district, parents chose to go the other high schools in the district. Also, they actively blocked certain students entering the district from neighboring Los Angeles Unified. As a result, the known gang members vanished just as enrollment dropped to manageable levels. Finally, state-of-the-art facilities opened on the school. Test scores, on the other hand had dipped prior to the year Dr. Stone arrived. This was due in large part to Lenore being treated as a dumping ground for troubled students, and in part to the revolving door at the principal’s position. Before the issues happening at the leadership level, test scores were making small but noticeable increases.


Leadership skills

© 2012 Dean Traylor

Comments

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on September 01, 2019:

Added: An update on the whereabouts of the "bully" principal. Prepare to be disappointed.

Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on October 13, 2018:

The principal makes all the difference in the whole experience you have in a school. I still have fond memories of my elementary and middle school principals. My high school principal was totally invisible in the school..if he was there we never saw him.I'm surprised he showed up to hand out the diplomas!

Stella Aligizaki from Greece on November 23, 2017:

I agree with you. A good principal is very important for the school environment. A bad principal can destroy everything.

Mazoo on October 09, 2017:

I will also love to be his part for advices because I'm experiencing same challenge as a teacher you don't have to give give opinions always suppressed

McKenna Meyers on August 30, 2017:

I, too, immediately thought of Trump when reading this. Both created such a toxic environment in such a short time. I also worked at a school with such a person and, although she wasn't the principal, she had a lot of power (too much power) and used it to make my life miserable as well as many others. Most significantly, she was denying special education services for students who really needed them. All she did was put them in a regular classroom, called it "inclusion," and let them and their teachers "sink or swim."

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on October 11, 2016:

Come to think of it, I can see the similarities. He was a compulsive liar, bully, and all-around narcissist (use to drive in a flashy car, too). One of the funniest things is that I've found a critique of him on Rate My Teacher. Whereas most of the students and parents on the site commented about how slippery he is, there's one reviewer that claims great things about him. The problem: it looked a lot like his writing (I still have copies of his e-mails). Didn't Trump do something like that with the fake PR man stunt? Eerie similarities indeed.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on October 09, 2016:

Dean, this really something. The more I read the more I thought you were talking about trump & had to keep reminding myself that trump is not a teacher much less a principal.

But, Republicans like Bobby Jindal don't like education and want to shut down all public schools so that only rich kids have an education.

Interesting hub.

Blessings my friend.

sujaya venkatesh on September 11, 2015:

need to get really educated

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on April 09, 2015:

An update was added. The guy is up to the same shenanigan at a new school site (and I wouldn't be surprised somebody reading this know exactly who this person is)

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on June 29, 2014:

Hi dianetrotter, this principal made the news too; however, it was a glowing review in which several teachers responded negatively in its letter to the editor. Also, in some unrelated news my district's superintendent was not on his best behavior and ended up on national news for his compensation package...to himself. I didn't realize how big it was until I overheard tourist talking about him at a restaurant near Disneyland.

G. Diane Nelson Trotter from Fontana on June 28, 2014:

grand old lady, the principal for my school is GONE!!! It made the newspapers in January/February/March. http://www.sbsun.com/social-affairs/20140303/pacif...

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on June 28, 2014:

It's sad that there can be people like this in the educational system, and frightening that it can be the principal. However, thankfully there is a way for feedback to get to him, and get past him so that he can't get away with it forever. Students need good teachers and good leaders, and the principal sets the tone for this along with the educational direction that the school will take.

Jim on May 16, 2013:

Our principal is letting her power go to her head she is bulling the kids that she doesn't like she hates kids and works in an elementary school.

G. Diane Nelson Trotter from Fontana on May 03, 2013:

It is frightening how a bully principal can look like an angel to District administrators.

kikibruce from New York on February 08, 2013:

I left the last my last two schools because my principals were corrupt bullies. Some people really let power go to their heads. I will also add that they were racists. I worked in New York City charter schools. Some of the worst places to work.

Greg Horlacher from Grand Prairie, TX on July 26, 2012:

This kind of principal behavior is so frustratingly common. An even more frustrating thought for me: Who is hiring these people - and why?

I also want to nominate myself president of the Dean Traylor Fan Club.

AE Williams from Atlanta, GA on June 26, 2012:

Wow, that's insane...

Jbern117 from Dunmore, PA on June 24, 2012:

unqualified/unprofessional and even ignorant people taking positions at public schools seems to be a recurring theme anymore... even my own school had several newly hired teachers who were simply not cut out for the job, and administration that got involved pretty heavily in nasty politics within the school. Nice article; well written and informative!