November 18, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.

State principal of the year, North Branch administrator gets chance to meet with Congress

State principal of the year, North Branch administrator gets chance to meet with Congress
State principal of the year, North Branch administrator gets chance to meet with Congress

Coleman McDonough certainly doesn't shy away from a challenge. He left his job as principal of Hazel Park Middle School Academy, as his career was on the ascent, and started this fall as principal at North Branch High School.

He'd only been a principal in St. Paul for about four years and learned after switching jobs that he was chosen to receive the 2010 Minnesota Middle School Level Principal award.

He and Edina High School Principal Bruce Locklear were the only principals in the state recognized by their peers.

McDonough is confident this choice to relocate to North Branch High School was the right thing to do. He says he respects Superintendent Dr. Deb Henton's organizational and leadership skills and envisions great things on the horizon for North Branch. The new job also puts him a couple minutes away from his home, versus his former commute to St. Paul. The McDonoughs have lived on several acres in rural North Branch for years.

As state middle school principal of the year McDonough got a trip to Washington D.C. There he networked with fellow award winning principals from across America, and also spoke with Minnesota representatives in the nation's capitol, who he was pleased to report were very accessible and engaged in education issues.

The trip was funded by the national associations of secondary and elementary principals.

The associations' shared mission, McDonough explained, was to get some face time with lawmakers ahead of when congress takes action reauthorizing federal education reform measures. There were 100 principals participating (two from each state), sharing their firsthand recommendations for educational reforms relevant to No Child Left Behind.

McDonough also hoped to shine a large spotlight on the role that principals play in student success.

If acquaintances sometimes joke about McDonough's being a school principal, saying things like 'You don't want to go to his office,' he takes the jest in good spirit; and then uses the opportunity to correct this impression. McDonough will happily explain to anyone willing to listen how the role of the modern principal is one of mentoring and advising teachers, helping them to become the best educators they can be. He is out of his office more than he's in it, and he doesn't consider himself the disciplinarian at North Branch High School.

Falling back on his football playing experiences McDonough describes how principals are now more comparable to coaches, and the successful principal is one who takes responsibility for instilling a culture that supports academic growth within his or her building.

When McDonough was teaching social studies he says nobody taught him how to teach. Back in those days you were shown your classroom and the door was closed and you were on your own.

McDonough says from the top down it is important to clearly communicate expectations and then actively help achieve those expectations.

"I want North Branch schools to be incredible," he continues.

In talking with lawmakers in D.C. he made it known that the goals of accountability and standardized testing in the No Child Left Behind act are somewhat valuable in focusing instruction, but he hopes he made the case for some adjustments to be made to NCLB. "Is it perfect? No," he says.

In North Branch the latest student testing data illustrated room for academic improvement in mathematics. McDonough is seeing to it that even the high school English teachers embed math-based skills into their lessons, assigning more non-fiction reading, for example.

McDonough believes that data can improve delivery of education, but it's got to be useful data.

He said he seeks more tools in the reauthorization of NCLB that would measure a single student's educational progress. A student may not be at the level of his peers, but if the school can show a student made personal education gains, that should be worth something.

McDonough also had long discussions with Senator Al Franken and others about the 100 percent graduation rate mandated by 2014 and how realistic this will be.

There was interest from all the local congressional delegation on "...how to move things forward, but NCLB is not going away," McDonough noted.


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