Dan Sims (B.A. ’95, M.Ed. ’01, Ed.D. ’15) is a lifelong resident of East Point, Ga., who attended the area’s schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. He began his career as a math teacher and moved through the ranks to his current position as principal of Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta. Along the way, he obtained three degrees from Georgia State and was named Georgia’s Middle School Principal of the Year in 2007, all while remaining involved in the community.
At Tri-Cities, Sims has overseen improved End-of-Course Test scores in English Language Arts, increases in students’ SAT scores and a 95 percent graduation rate for students enrolled as seniors each year. He also serves as a board member for the college’s Principals Center, which he considers a major source of inspiration for his work.
“Being a practitioner, it is great to be a part of an organization that considers the input of ones actively in the field,” he said. “I attribute much of the success of the Principals Center to this approach, and I am honored to participate in making decisions on what best suits the needs of Georgia’s leaders.”
Common Core curriculum, school safety, cheating … the world of education has a lengthy list of push-button topics. Beyond the rhetoric, they represent critical issues that school leaders at all levels have to address at the classroom level.
Keeping those leaders informed about issues and approaches for handling them is one of the key roles of the Principals Center, a key component of the College of Education and Human Development for 31 years.
Professor Emeritus Joe Richardson, in conjunction with former Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member Roland Barth, founded the center in 1984 to meet what the two saw as a basic need for professional development among educational leaders in elementary, middle and high schools, public and independent.
“Over the years, we have provided a tremendous resource, and not only for principals,” said Executive Director Jim Kahrs. “We now look at all school leaders, assistant principals, teacher leaders, academic coaches and those aspiring to be leaders.”
Those resources are offered in a variety of formats. At least six times a year, the Expert Leader series brings noted researchers and workers from around the state to speak on a pertinent issue facing current classrooms. For example, a recent guest spoke on the educational concerns for young African-American males. The Toolbox Series also presents local experts, particularly principals who are doing something innovative they can share with others. The Cohort Series offers eight to 10 sessions each school year that are instructionally-based and designed to address specific curriculum concerns. It also conducts professional development seminars for new principals and hosts a celebration exclusively for new principals at the end of each year.
Whatever the format, the content is consistently driven by the concerns of those on the forefront of the issue.
“Our curriculum is always based on what we hear from our districts and advisory boards,” said Kahrs. “We work hard to keep up with what’s going on out there by listening to what our districts are looking for. We often partner with a county, and if they tell us, ‘We need a speaker on this issue,’ then we organize it and open it to their members.”
While many issues recur with some regularity, others are timely topics that have caught national attention.
“When Common Core came out and people began looking at the testing, we held a lot of sessions on how to deal with that,” said Kahrs. “Some of that is going away now, but there’s always interest in sound strategies. We constantly talk about ethics and how to deal with them in complex school situations. We’ve also done a lot around the issue of security. When someone breaks into a school, as they did at McNair Middle here in Atlanta, it becomes a focus of discussion and concern.”
Much of the material for workshops and seminars comes from the 20 members of the center’s advisory board, made up of educators from Georgia State and the state’s school districts. They have provided the basis for sessions on topics such as changes in state certification and details of the College and Career Ready Performance Index, said Sims.
“The center has changed with the times, and that’s what impressed me about it,” he said. “It offers a timely response to what’s happening right now. We meet several times a year to agree on what the most pressing topics are, from technology in instruction to new testing requirements or curriculum shifts.”
Last year, the center’s reach extended beyond Georgia.
“We are part of a national network, and the only center in Georgia,” said Kahrs. “But there is also an International Network of Principals’ Centers, and in 2014 that network moved to Georgia State. Now under our auspices, we’re building networks with contacts we’ve made in England and Brazil, for example. We’re also trying to resurrect centers that have gone by the wayside. That’s the kind of outreach that’s great for our center and for Georgia State as well.”
This story was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2015-16 issue of IN the College of Education & Human Development, the college’s alumni magazine.