By Morgan Sawyer
Jamesville-DeWitt High School can be proud of Principal Paul Gasparini, who was recognized as part of the National Association for Secondary School Principals this fall in Washington, D.C. His visit from Sept. 19 to Sept. 22 gave him the chance to meet with principals from all over the country and discuss important political topics that affect our school.
Mr. Gasparini’s arrival on Sept. 19 was highlighted by introductory sessions with all other principals in attendance. He spent much of the day meeting all his fellow members of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and learning about where they are from and their schools. He marveled at the variety of different locations; “We had a principal from Georgia, the National High School Principal of the year from Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey, all of whom had an opportunity to talk what was the most surprising was how united we were in our perspectives,” said Mr. Gasparini.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, the congregation of principals visited Capitol Hill to discuss the new Project Respect Bill with the Department of Education (DOE). The main idea of Project Respect is to reward outstanding teachers on a merit system based on the results of the recently instituted APPR methods. But these methods tend to be inaccurate and produce invalid results, said Mr. Gasparini. The issue of how to reward these teachers has also been a topic of debate in the Department of Education. Discussion on whether or not to increase salary as a reward has been common. Mr. Gasparini had his own thoughts on the subject. He explained how the government assumes that teachers strive to become more powerful based on titles: “ Many teachers have been here for years, they don’t want to do anything but teach they want to get better at their profession. Many teachers are teachers and coaches or teachers and advisers (because) that is what they want to do, and that is what keeps them going.” The attempts to provide the teachers with motives to teach better are considered by Mr. Gasparini to be “desperate.” “Its the other, darker side of this APPR deal. The that idea you can make incentives that will give teachers more of a reason to perform better, are mostly false, and what is not understood is that being a good teacher is incentive enough.”
On top of all that, the gathered principals also discussed broader legislation regarding how to deal with issues based on where the school is located in the state. Mr. Gasparini said that this allows the state of New York to discern between the problems of the urban and rural school districts, which have very different needs. He believes that this, in the long run, should allow for more improvements of the school.
Being on Capitol Hill, Mr. Gasparini had the unique opportunity to be in the presence of many well known politicians. He was fortunate to have seen and meet some Congress members including: Barney Frank (Massachusetts Congressman), Lamar Alexander (Senator for Tennessee), John Lewis (Georgia Congressman), and Henry Waxman (California Congressman). He also met with New York Congresswoman Ann-Marie Buerkle, and visited Senator Charles Schumer’s Office: “I was excited to walk past and see Speaker of the House, Boehner,” said Mr. Gasparini.
The morning of Sept. 22 came quickly, said Mr. Gasparini. The entourage of administrators spent much of the morning in a formal staff development program where all the principals were encouraged to share their own innovative ideas. Mr. Gasparini was confident that at least one of these ideas would soon become a backstage staple in the managing of student performance: “We have reams of student performance data, reams. I’ve got tons. We look at data on student performance all the time,” said Mr. Gasparini, “With this new managing program we can make use of student data more effectively, and apply this information to our teaching methods.”
That evening Mr. Gasparini attended the main recognition event, in the form of a black tie dinner. He said he was “thrilled” to have received this honor. He was also excited to have been joined by his wife for this dinner, which drew a very interesting and productive weekend to a close. “I was excited to be there. We were very nicely honored as principals,” said Mr. Gasparini. “I guess what I learned most is that when talking policy with legislators wheels really spin slowly, and that there isn’t as widespread an understanding among legislators of APPR and Project Respect as you otherwise might think.”