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A Bad Principal: How One Affected a School's Culture

Updated on January 21, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

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It shouldn't take a bad principal to prove how important leadership is at schools

June 21st: this was an important day for students and teachers. The Class of 2012 marched down the football field at Lenore High School* to receive their ceremonial diplomas. The teachers turned in their final grades, cleaned their classrooms, packed up their supplies, and headed out the door to start their vacation.

However, this joyous day was made even sweeter for the faculty and staff. Dr. Robert Stone*, the school’s contentious principal for the last three years had resigned his post. He had decided to take an administrative position in an Orange County school district. Many Lenore High teachers couldn’t hide their elation.

For three hard years, teachers, counselors, and administrators at this school had to contend with boorish behavior, favoritism, disparaging e-mail comments, bullying, and shady practices from their leader. His tenure at the school was marked by involuntary transfers of teachers, the near dismantling of special education, resignations, and the loss of nearly half of its students to other schools.

The situation was so dire that nearly 90% of the teachers and counselors at the school gave him a vote of no-confidence in a specially held union referendum last year. Also, he earned the ire of officials at the district office who grew tired of the numerous complaints and grievances filed against him.

Now, this bad principal was leaving on his own accord. And he did so at the right time. Lenore High – a perennially low-ranked school in a economically depressed area of Los Angeles County – was posting some of the highest test scores and graduation rates in years. **

Still, the animosity could not be ignored. He had worn out his welcome a long time ago and many teachers were happy to see him leave.

He dressed and acted the part of a leader when placed in a public setting. He gave great speeches to faculty, staff and the students

Lenore High School’s dilemma illustrated something that rarely gets mentioned in talks about school reform: leadership at the top. And, these leaders have to have certain qualifications:

1. the ability to communicate clear goals and objectives to faculty;

2. form professional relationships with them;

3. lead by example or model appropriate behavior and action;

4. utilize and accept opinions;

5. the ability to resolve conflicts;

6. address everyone in a professional matter;

7. use fair and appropriate discipline when needed;

8. be consistent; and

9. Be decisive.

Simply put, ineffective leaders lack most if not all these qualities. Additionally, they can be too passive or too aggressive. In other cases, their intentions are mired in obscurity.

There were some distinctions Dr. Stone had. He dressed and acted the part of a leader when placed in a public setting. He gave great speeches to faculty, staff and the students. Also, he always appeared lively and friendly. Most of all, he was decisive -- even if the decisions he made were simply wrong for the situation.

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So What Did He Do Wrong?

However, in private, he was a different person. There were several examples of his real self:

1. He told a teacher to “shut-up.” That teacher was simply trying to explain a teaching method he was using in the classroom.

2. He misused the school’s e-mail as a platform to retaliate against teachers. He rarely critiqued a teacher in person (unless that person was alone with him and in his office). He sent out disparaging comments that questioned the teacher’s professionalism, intelligence, and dedication. In some cases, the comments went out to everyone in the school, thus embarrassing the teacher before his or her peers. One teacher said it best when she was interviewed by a local newspaper: “He talks about the evils of bullying, yet he is biggest one of them all.”

3. He didn’t listen to people’s complaints. When teachers asked for favors, he generally ignored them. These requests varied. Some needed new equipments, others wanted a new room, or wanted a change in teaching assignment. There were also others who requested a transfers. All of these were either turned down or blocked by him with little or no explanation to go along with it.

4. He was rarely seen on campus. In the beginning of the school year he could be seen walking the halls. By the end of the year, nobody was sure if he was campus. For most of the 2011-2012 school year, his car was not in the parking lot, or the door to his office was closed. The only way anyone knew he was around was when he sent off a flurry of e-mails or got on the P.A. to announce something. One teacher commented: “He administers from behind his desk.”

5. Childish behavior. He held grudges against those who criticized him, and he never put it aside. This piece of information came from the district’s union president who met with him on a regular basis. The president always delivered the news that teachers were complaining about him. As a result, Dr. Stone refused to meet with him. And, during district hearing or meetings, unrelated to the complaints, Dr. Stone didn’t bother to shake hands or address him. He quickly walked away in the opposite direction, mumbling something under his breath.The president stated that it was as if he was dealing with a child who couldn't get his way.

6. Arrogance. There’s no doubt Dr. Stone took a lot of credit for all the good things that were happening at the school. He boasted and bragged that it was leadership that did it, even if many of these positive changes had little to do with him.*** A popular story circulating around the district was that his adviser from his doctoral program at a major university despised him for being extremely arrogant, pushy, and rude. Too bad the district officials didn't hear about this before hiring him.

Dr. Stone’s departure will not be missed. By the time June of 2012 arrived, most teachers at Lenore High School and other campuses in the district (his reputation was that bad) wanted to disassociate from him.

His Departure

This list can go on and on. Aside from the personality issues, Dr. Stone had done other things that brought his ethics into question as well. He ignored the provision stated in IEPs (Individual Education Plan) for students with learning disabilities. He went against district and state protocols to place these students (some with reading ability at a 3rd grade level) in honor courses. And then, he sent an e-mail instructing teachers to not give any students a failing grade. On top of all that, he purposely short-changed supplies to teachers he didn’t like, and forced many others to teach curriculum they were not trained or credentialed to do so (this was particularly true for the special education teachers).

Dr. Stone’s departure will not be missed. By the time June of 2012 arrived, most teachers at Lenore High School and other campuses in the district (his reputation was that bad) wanted to disassociate from him.

Possibly, one district office administrator summed it best when talking about Dr. Stone: “He was difficult to work with and he lacked people skills.”

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Update: New School, Same Behavior

As of 2015, The principal in question has moved on to a new school district. This time, he's at a larger district and at a larger high school. However, this hasn't changed his old ways. Recently, somebody posted a critique on a teacher-rating site, in which he was harshly judged. There are two comments to accompany the ratings.

One stated that he was pushing students into AP courses without taking the initial exams to qualify in order to get federal funding.He did this at my school. Mysteriously, special needs students were enrolled in AP courses. And, unsurprisingly, they failed miserably. The critique also claimed that he was "bullying students."

He has also been accused of mismanaging and bullying teachers, too. Newspapers such as Long Beach Press Telegram and other small local papers in Downey, La Mirada, and Norwalk reported of an incident in which he inexplicably moved a teacher from her classroom and students to a new one.

Again, this he made similar moves at my school. In one case, he moved a teacher who openly defied him to an inferior classroom (one with no technology and no windows).

The also stated that the teacher at the new school tried to communicate with Dr. Stone. He never returned her messages and remained silent on the matter. Surprisingly, he didn't say anything to local newspapers as well. That's a change, while at my school he utilized local media all the time.

Notes

* The name of the school and the principal has been changed.

** The school Lenore High School was based on had gone through several years of leadership changes. In the year before Dr. Stone’s arrival, the school went through two principals. Also, in 2010, the district feared that the state was going to take over the school. As a result, the district initiated a controversial move in which teachers from Lenore and the other schools would be involuntarily transferred. Part of the idea was to remove some of the teachers and bring in more “qualified” teachers. It was possible that the tactic was supposed to give Dr. Stone some teachers he can work with. It didn’t matter, he still alienated those who were involuntarily transferred.

**Much of the changes that had positive effects on Lenore High School actually started well before Dr. Stone arrived. Due to school choice measures passed in the district, parents chose to go the other high schools in the district. Also, they actively blocked certain students entering the district from neighboring Los Angeles Unified. As a result, the known gang members vanished just as enrollment dropped to manageable levels. Finally, state-of-the-art facilities opened on the school. Test scores, on the other hand had dipped prior to the year Dr. Stone arrived. This was due in large part to Lenore being treated as a dumping ground for troubled students, and in part to the revolving door at the principal’s position. Before the issues happening at the leadership level, test scores were making small but noticeable increases.


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© 2012 Dean Traylor

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    • Jbern117 profile image

      Jbern117 4 years ago from Dunmore, PA

      unqualified/unprofessional and even ignorant people taking positions at public schools seems to be a recurring theme anymore... even my own school had several newly hired teachers who were simply not cut out for the job, and administration that got involved pretty heavily in nasty politics within the school. Nice article; well written and informative!

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 4 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Wow, that's insane...

    • Greg Horlacher profile image

      Greg Horlacher 4 years ago from Grand Prairie, TX

      This kind of principal behavior is so frustratingly common. An even more frustrating thought for me: Who is hiring these people - and why?

      I also want to nominate myself president of the Dean Traylor Fan Club.

    • kikibruce profile image

      kikibruce 4 years ago from New York

      I left the last my last two schools because my principals were corrupt bullies. Some people really let power go to their heads. I will also add that they were racists. I worked in New York City charter schools. Some of the worst places to work.

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 3 years ago from Fontana

      It is frightening how a bully principal can look like an angel to District administrators.

    • profile image

      Jim 3 years ago

      Our principal is letting her power go to her head she is bulling the kids that she doesn't like she hates kids and works in an elementary school.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      It's sad that there can be people like this in the educational system, and frightening that it can be the principal. However, thankfully there is a way for feedback to get to him, and get past him so that he can't get away with it forever. Students need good teachers and good leaders, and the principal sets the tone for this along with the educational direction that the school will take.

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 2 years ago from Fontana

      grand old lady, the principal for my school is GONE!!! It made the newspapers in January/February/March. http://www.sbsun.com/social-affairs/20140303/pacif...

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 2 years ago from Southern California

      Hi dianetrotter, this principal made the news too; however, it was a glowing review in which several teachers responded negatively in its letter to the editor. Also, in some unrelated news my district's superintendent was not on his best behavior and ended up on national news for his compensation package...to himself. I didn't realize how big it was until I overheard tourist talking about him at a restaurant near Disneyland.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 2 years ago from Southern California

      An update was added. The guy is up to the same shenanigan at a new school site (and I wouldn't be surprised somebody reading this know exactly who this person is)

    • profile image

      ADMIRE YOUR WRITING 20 months ago

      OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 19 months ago

      need to get really educated

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 6 months ago from Texas

      Dean, this really something. The more I read the more I thought you were talking about trump & had to keep reminding myself that trump is not a teacher much less a principal.

      But, Republicans like Bobby Jindal don't like education and want to shut down all public schools so that only rich kids have an education.

      Interesting hub.

      Blessings my friend.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 6 months ago from Southern California

      Come to think of it, I can see the similarities. He was a compulsive liar, bully, and all-around narcissist (use to drive in a flashy car, too). One of the funniest things is that I've found a critique of him on Rate My Teacher. Whereas most of the students and parents on the site commented about how slippery he is, there's one reviewer that claims great things about him. The problem: it looked a lot like his writing (I still have copies of his e-mails). Didn't Trump do something like that with the fake PR man stunt? Eerie similarities indeed.

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