This past week I was able to visit with principals in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Connecting with these leaders, walking the buildings, listening to what is going well and learning about the struggles is a critical part of my job. Due to the remoteness of UP schools and districts, they have always faced unique challenges, but this visit demonstrated to me that many of the concerns are the same as those shared by “downstate” principals. Here are some of the common themes gathered by talking with principals:

What is going well?

  • Teachers have been very flexible and are going above and beyond to make things work. With the shortage of subs they are covering classes and only taking leave days when they truly need to. 
  • The UP districts I visited are all 1:1 and teachers are using online learning platforms even when students are face to face. This makes it easy for students who are quarantined or absent for other reasons to stay engaged with learning. 
  • The additional funding is helping to make necessary improvements to aging infrastructure and is providing more support personnel for students. 

What are the difficulties?

  • Employee shortages. The day to day running of the school is a challenge. UP districts have some of the largest district footprints in the state with a big percentage of the students on a bus for an hour or more. There is little flexibility for combining bus runs, making the shortage of drivers a more acute problem. Filling teaching and support staff positions is proving to be nearly impossible in some situations. Even the larger UP districts have positions going unfilled.
  • Students are struggling to re-engage. The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Getting back to five full days a week in person has been challenging. The failure rates in some schools are very high as are the absentee rates. After two abnormal years, student behavior issues are on the increase. 
  • People are angry. Although many principals share great stories of communities coming together to support students and the school, there are also stories of unreasonable people who just seem to be angry about anything and everything. 
  • Principals are running on fumes. Pre-pandemic, the job was already difficult and required 60+ hours per week. However, as COVID-19 continues to hit students and staff, the added responsibilities of contact tracing and finding ways to creatively cover classes to keep school in session are increasing already high stress levels. 

Key Take-Aways for MASSP from the visit:

  • MASSP has to continue to work on ensuring that the legislature addresses pupil accounting issues schools are encountering due to the pandemic. No school should lose funding due to the need for students to be in quarantine.
  • Schools are interested in different models including late starts, asynchronous learning days, etc. The current days and hours requirements do not allow for the much needed flexibility and creativity necessary for quality learning. MASSP will request that MDE form a workgroup to explore ways to provide options and make it easier to document learning time.
  • Educator shortage is not going away anytime soon. MASSP has been involved in the MAVIN Project which has great potential for providing every school with access to high quality curriculum, resources, and supports that are desperately needed. We will continue to invest in this work to make it scalable statewide. 
  • UP Principals appreciated MASSP’s support during the pandemic and would like all of the virtual Leader2Leader and PD opportunities to continue...which is what we plan to do!

Michigan has a wide range of urban, rural and suburban school districts with unique and varied challenges. As you read this article I am certain there are things every single principal in the state can identify with. As your association, we are here to support you and find ways to help mitigate the challenges all secondary Principals are facing. The MASSP Board of Directors provides regional representation for every corner of the state. If there are additional issues you would like MASSP to address, please reach out to your Region representative so that we can discuss issues that may be unique to your area of the state. 

Written by Wendy Zdeb, MASSP Executive Director