Do you feel like a first responder? Is your day-to-day focused on putting out fires, triaging issues, mediating conflicts or defending ineffective or outdated practices? Do you ever get to the end of the school day and wonder where time went? Have you managed to get through a whole day without eating, using the restroom, or visiting a single classroom? Are you exhausted at night thinking about what you need to address in the morning? If so, you are likely a building administrator.

In the early 90s, as I transitioned from being an elementary teacher to middle level assistant principal in a seventh through ninth grade building serving 1,750 students, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I expected to spend time facilitating conflict resolution, supervising lunch and student activities, and managing student behavior. I looked forward to classroom observations and coaching teachers. What I didn’t expect was the need to address gangs, drugs, weapons, violence, sexual misconduct, homelessness, abuse, neglect and other trauma our students experienced. My first year as an AP, I felt more like a police officer than an educator. I spent as much time investigating allegations, issuing consequences, composing expulsion recommendations and facilitating discipline hearings as I did observing teachers and providing feedback. 

In hindsight, the challenges faced were a blessing in disguise. I worked and learned with an incredible team of colleagues committed to changing culture and leading learning. While partnering with our two liaison officers and legal counsel, I closely listened to what they said and how they said it. I watched how they approached investigations, conducted interviews and presented their findings. I learned that there are different definitions of a weapon that apply when disciplining general and special education students; that mandatory reporting laws required me to first contact DHS, not the police; how a decision to allow prayer at the flagpole shifted a school from being a closed to open forum; and how to apply the “substantial disruption” test to gang colors/signs and confederate flags. I also learned about nexus to school when addressing issues at bus stops and online, and how to approach a student in a classroom with a loaded handgun in his pants so as to minimize risk to classmates. 

I learned as much from the unintended consequences of my actions and decisions – despite the best of intentions – as I had from those that were expected. 

Each winter/spring, MASSP is flooded with inquiries about how to address difficult situations specific to employment, personnel and students. As we listen to accounts of situations and provide support in responding to current circumstances, I am reminded of my days in the trenches feeling alone, and wondering what to do next. Fortunately, as a member of MASSP you are never alone. We stand ready to be your first responder. We are just a text or phone call away to listen and support you in navigating the challenges building administrators face. It's one of the ways to pay forward the lessons we have learned, and fulfill our mission of advancing learning.

Knowing springtime is traditionally when disciplinary situations intensify, while school districts concurrently review policies, administrative regulations and handbooks for the next school year, MASSP has partnered Lusk Albertson to create a Legal Survival Guide and one-day workshop to engage leaders in exploring best practices in setting expectations, building culture and responding to undesirable behavior. 

The Legal Survival Guide is a collection of attorney-reviewed and attorney-approved resources to help navigate the legal challenges that schools face. The Legal Survival Guide is a toolkit to assist in making sure that your school’s handbook, notifications, policies and regulations are up-to-date and legally compliant. In addition, it includes best practices for conducting investigations and responding to discipline infractions. 

Whether you are a new administrator who doesn’t know what you don’t know, a mid-career administrator looking to clarify your understanding and strengthen your practice or a veteran administrator seeking a fresh perspective, our Legal Survival Guide: Navigating the Legal Challenges School Districts Face is the workshop for you.

During the workshop, participants will 

  • Review changes in state statute and MDE policy that impact administration of a school.

  • Compare existing language in student handbooks, notifications, policies, and regulations with attorney drafted model language.

  • Identify necessary updates and recommended revisions within your local handbook, policies, and procedures.

  • Examine discipline scenarios, discuss possible approaches addressing them, and learn the consequences for each decision.

To learn more or register for this powerful session click here.

Written by Colin Ripmaster, MASSP Associate Executive Director