Assistant Principals: The Backbone of Our Schools

Many assistant principals wouldn’t trade their role for anything. Those who do move on usually recall their AP days with nostalgia.  Their most poignant memories come from then. The same is true of me when I recall being an AP at Barringer Preparatory School in Newark, New JerseyNow, as we enter Assistant Principals Week, I remember why we have so much affection for that position. It is because it’s the nexus where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the sparks often fly, and we make the greatest difference.

APs have more direct connections than anyone else in a school. The advisory relationship with principals, teachers, parents and students tends to be very close. Many former APs have told me they have moments when they wish they still had those intense relationships, especially with kids. They wish they still could identify and turn around small problems before they explode into big issues.

Today, after the pandemic, the AP role is even more demanding, but it also can be more rewarding. There is now an outsized need for strong AP instructional leaders doing teacher observations, evaluations and training. Equally strong is the need for wise and diplomatic APs as advisers and sounding boards for principals, whose positions are now so complex, they are starting to flee in alarming numbers.

But the most urgent need is for the kids who are crying out to be cared for and included. Most are having a hard time readapting after long months away from traditional school. APs are likely to be the first and last person they see every day, and a presence during the tense social times in between, when pent-up energy can make codes of conduct a nightmare to uphold. My dear Newark colleague AP Walter V. Genuario relished lunchroom duty. Walter died unexpectedly this past December, but right up to the end, he talked about how valuable it was to be in the lunchroom, where he could defuse tensions and spread some love. 

So, to all assistant principals, honor is due, whether your position is a permanent career choice or a steppingstone. You are seen, you are valued, you are the backbone of our schools.

Be well, stay well.