On Call for Kids: the National Principals' Hotline

Caitlin Johnson
March 10, 2000

Lunchboxes, best friends, textbooks, recess. There are many wonderful childhood memories of school. The principal's office is generally not one of them. For most of us, the very idea of talking to the principal was enough to make our palms sweat and our heart race.

But principals are an important part of school programs, policymaking and atmosphere. And this weekend, you've got a chance to swallow childhood fears and have the principal's ear all to yourself—to voice concerns, ask questions or just talk about education or your child's school. The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), with support from funder TIAA-CREF and Family Circle magazine, is hosting its 11th annual National Principals' Hotline—and you're invited!

Bringing Families and Schools Together
More and more studies suggest that parent involvement in schools can make a big difference in children's performance and experiences. To help bring schools and families closer together, more than 150 school principals, psychologists and translators will be on-hand from March 19 to March 21, 2000, to answer toll-free hotline calls and e-mails from parents, students, teachers, and anyone concerned about education.

So what kinds of things can you ask? In short, anything. "We get questions about children who are having trouble getting motivated, supports available, special education, or how to get involved in the classroom. Sometimes people don't think to go to a principal or teacher. They feel powerless and think they won't be listened to. But it's in the best interest of your child to interact with the school, and this is a good way to start," says Marci Brueggen, principal of Linwood Elementary School, in Oklahoma City, who's been a hotline volunteer for about 8 years.

No reasonable topic is off-limits. "An interesting thing that comes up is discipline," says Brueggen. "We have to do so much to keep our schools safe, keep the focus on learning and give kids the opportunity to learn without disruption. Often, people are concerned that the administration or teachers are too firm with their children."

Deidre Crawford lives in Virginia and is the mother of two children, one in second grade and the other in third. She's pretty involved with the school and the principal. "The kids like him, to them he's not just a principal or disciplinarian—he's Mr. Shaw, accessible and like everyone else. He hangs out in the lunchroom and talks to the students during lunchtime. And he and the teachers are very good about maintaining contact with parents."

Even so, she says she may call the hotline. "I would like to know more about class size. What criteria are schools using to determine that 30 kids is the magic number for teachers to get a full-time classroom aid? I'd also like to know more about the starting times, our school starts at 9:15 each morning. It's a difficult time for two working parents to handle. There's no type of extended care in their school. How are those decisions made?"

Towards a Common Goal
The hotline has payoff for parents and administrators alike. "It's fun and an exciting opportunity for us," says Principal Brueggen. "We get to hear what people around country are thinking, what parents are concerned about and may not want to be telling their principals."

A way to bounce ideas off someone else, the hotline can help users clarify their thinking and get a response, according to staffers. Says Brueggen: "Chances are that the principal staffing the hotline will know about the problem. I think we all share the same concerns, whether parent, administrator or teacher—we want students to do well and have a sense of success. That's universal."

The line is staffed by principals volunteering in two-hour shifts during NAESP's annual convention. Staffers generally get between 10 and 20 calls in a 2-hour period of time, according to hotline coordinator June Million. She and her colleagues at NAESP are urging parents, teachers, and concerned adults to call or e-mail questions on schools, child development, and education.

Getting connected to a principal or psychologist is easy. Effective March 19, call toll-free 1-800-944-1601 or e-mail by accessing www.naesp.org. Be sure to check the Web site for hotline and e-mail times in your area.

All calls are confidential. The line is open to people in the U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Canada. Callers may also request a free booklet, "What Parents Should Look for in Their Child's Elementary School," produced by NAESP and TIAA-CREF.

Now's the time to think about what matters to you. Whether you're concerned about reading problems, school policies, safety, technology, art and music, or out-of-school care, get your questions together and get ready to go directly to the principal's office!



Caitlin Johnson is staff writer at Connect for Kids.