Sommers speaks about the future for school principals

January 10 2008

TERRE HAUTE â€" Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, spoke Monday afternoon (Jan. 7) in a Clabber Girl Museum conference room to current and future school principals and administrators about the journey of leadership.

“The future is not a future thing,” said Sommers, who is on leave from her position as an elementary school principal in Fort Collins, Colo. “It’s actually today. The ideas of tomorrow are going on somewhere in the world.”

Sommers, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University, said it was “indescribable” to return to Terre Haute.

“It’s indescribable when I haven’t been here for 30-plus years,” she said about her return to speak to ISU department of educational leadership, administration and foundations about federal policy issues. “It opens doors that I haven’t thought about for years.”

Sommers selected ISU for her bachelor’s degree because of its strong education program.

“It gave me such a strong foundation,” she said. “It helped me to make a commitment to teaching children, not just teaching content.”

Joshua Powers, chair of ISU’s department of educational leadership, administration and foundations, said it was a joy hosting Sommers for her first visit back to Indiana State in 30 years.

“She has made quite a mark in education. Having her here to advise us on the preparation of tomorrow's principals and to speak to the Terre Haute educational community about school leadership was wonderful,” he said. “With luck we will have her back to help us celebrate the opening of the new College of Education building.”

In the future, principals could be working more as chief learning officers instead of discipline, Sommers said.

“You could be working totally on instruction and learning,” Sommers said. “It’s already happening in Australia, it’s happening in the U.K. and it’s happening in some places in the United States.”

Also as classrooms shift culturally, students will look less like those teaching and leading them, Sommers said. That means principals will need to become more culturally aware and should visit the homes of their students.

Principals also must take more of an advocacy role for their schools.

“We need to talk about the story of education,” she said.

In the past, Sommers said teachers didn’t have to worry about convincing lawmakers of anything, all teachers had to do was to teach. Those days, she said, are gone.

“We have to be advocates for the school and children in our schools,” she said.

That includes making their voices heard at the highest federal levels.

“People at the federal level are making decisions, but they’re not hearing our stories,” said Sommers, who has testified before Congress on the No Child Left Behind Act and the need for reform in high stakes testing on behalf of 30,000 elementary and middle school principals across the country. “Legislators are saying they’re not hearing from principals, they’re not hearing from teachers.”

The problem with the future, Sommers said, is a person cannot predict it.

“But what we can do is create it,” she added. “All we have to do is stand up and tell what you need. Tell your story.”

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Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@isugw.indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/241109665-D.jpg

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/241109379-D.jpg

Caption: Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, speaks to local school leaders and Indiana State University students on Jan. 7.

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Story Highlights

Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, spoke Monday afternoon (Jan. 7) in a Clabber Girl Museum conference room to current and future school principals and administrators about the journey of leadership.

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