Assistant principals share insight to their jobs

They may literally get knocked around at times, but assistant principals care about supporting students, their campuses and the district they work for.
Contrary to recent fights where people in the job have been injured — at Odessa High School — or dinged up — at Permian, Tyler Press at Permian, Amy Russell at Ector Middle School and Amy Hoxie at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa say their days are mainly made up of staying organized, mentoring and counseling students and teachers and trying to find enough time to do their jobs.
Press is in his first year as an assistant principal at Permian.
Having graduated from Odessa High School, he said he is used to the size of the school, although there were no freshmen there when he attended. In his job, Press said he is responsible for sophomores with last names beginning with A through L.
He checks in with students to make sure they’re coming to school. He also conducts classroom walk-throughs for teachers, checking lesson plans and occasional referral and discipline issues. Overall, Press said, that doesn’t take up very much of his time.
“It is never a boring day. It’s always exciting,” Press said. “I love kids. I love interacting with kids, building relationships with kids and so there are huge opportunities for that, especially at a campus this big.”
“(Being a) first-year AP is like drinking from a fire hydrant,” Press said. “But I have a ton of support, and so one of the things that I love about working here at Permian is I do have nine other administrators who have all been first year APs before and they have been wonderful to learn from. Each one of us has our own strengths and we understand that about each other and we also understand where we fall short and we lean on the team in those areas.”
Press also has learned from his wife, Alicia, who is principal at Buice Elementary School, and former principals Lisa Wills and Annette Macias. “I personally learned a lot from them, as well,” he said.
Press noted that the high schools were not made for the population they accommodate right now. He said the school population is around 3,700.
For the most part, Press said fights are being instigated on social media. Many of them start on weekends when students aren’t at school and usually aren’t between best friends.
To help prevent fights before they start, Press said he conducts counseling and mediation with students. Press said it’s understood the students are young, but they need to be mature.
“… The most important thing we do is making sure students are getting the level of instruction that they deserve,” Press said.
“… We’re here to support kids. We’re here to support parents. We like to be in constant communication with our parents. We go to extracurriculars. I’ve got gymnastics, softball and football that I attend. We monitor halls; we help at lunches; and even though my title is sophomore A through L, I’m still an administrator for the whole school. There’s 10 of us and we work as a team. We meet every Monday to discuss the week, discuss what’s going on; things that we should be aware of,” Press added.
When he counsels and mediates with students, he sits them down across the table from each other and makes them discuss the problem. A lot of times, the students think the other one has a problem with them and vice-versa and it’s usually outside people who are stirring up discord.
Press said they then talk about who real friends are. Do real friends get you into trouble, or are real friends the ones who keep you out of it. Students ultimately agree that real friends keep them out of trouble.
“I would say 95 percent of the time the mediation works because then what we also do is we call mom or dad and fill them in on what’s going on. When we have kids here, we try to explain to them your mom and dad dropped you off here today because they wanted you to get an education and we’re an extension of your parents here. Your parents trust us to be watching you and so they would want to know what’s going on here,” Press said.
Press added that he never discredits the students’ emotions, but tells them that how they react to those feelings is what growing up is all about.
“Lots of times we find that it’s other students who are getting involved where they may have blocked them on social media because they’re trying to do the right thing. Well, their friends are coming up and showing them screen shots of what’s being said. So their friends kind of get them swirled up in this.”
There are students, though, who show administrators screen shots of scheduled fights. “They’ll talk to us,” Press said. “We’ll go and immediately pull those students out of class and do mediation, so we don’t even let it get to the hall.”
Students are broken up alphabetically so administrators have a focus. “We have over 200 teachers on campus and our goal is to make it into all the classrooms and see all the wonderful lessons that they’ve prepared. We get to watch kids learn. That’s why we’re in this. We care about kids. We care about education,” Press said.
Previously, Press taught PE and Bible at a middle school in Medina, Ohio. He taught speech last year at PHS. He earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Dallas Baptist University and his master’s in educational leadership from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
He has been an adult and children’s minister.
“I grew up in public schools. I went to Pease. I went to Crockett. I went to OHS and I got a great education, so I’ve always believed in public education. I believed in local schools, I believe in neighborhood schools,” Press said. “It was my opportunity to give back to the community that had given me so much.”
Russell at Ector Middle School is one of five assistant principals, which also has an associate principal and principal. As of March 1, the campus had 1,638 students.
Russell’s first career was in accounting. She earned a bachelor’s of business administration in accounting from UTPB, followed by a master’s in educational leadership, also from UTPB.
When Russell’s two boys entered elementary school, she was in a position to quit and be a full-time mom, involved in PTA and Volunteers and Partners. She also became a tutor for state tests, mostly in math and reading.
She said she loved working with the students and supporting teachers with whatever they needed. People kept telling her they needed her to go full time, but Russell said she didn’t want to work hard like they did.
Russell has been with the district about 14 years. She volunteered and was a fourth-grade teacher at Dowling Elementary School and then became a campus curriculum facilitator at other campuses. This is her second year as an assistant principal at Ector.
People ask if Russell misses accounting, but the answer is no because she’s where things are happening and fast paced. She and her fellow assistant principals have different focuses – hers is instruction. That way, she and her colleagues are able to be more effective and efficient in sharing the load.
“… We’re kind of like first responders – whoever comes up on the scene. Now if there’s a principal that has a really good relationship with the student and family, then we’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s go talk to Mr. (James) Valadez, Mr. (David) Weilby,’ that kind of thing. But it’s all our kids,” Russell said.
Russell said Principal Kendra Herrera has been able to bring a high school model to Ector Middle School because the campus is almost the same size as some high schools.
When she started as a volunteer mom, Russell said she never meant to stay in school.
“… I didn’t aim for assistant principal, but the leadership part of me I think from accounting was always (wondering) what can I do more to help … other than what I was doing. Even those four years in the classroom, I was still helping campus wide,” Russell said.
The benefit of being an assistant principal is the relationships created with students, parents and staff and seeing “your hard work pay off” when a student succeeds or she helps a parent solve an issue.
“The only pitfall I would say is probably time — that I don’t have enough time to see my 120 staff members. There’s just not enough time to be everywhere. I can honestly say I think I work just as hard as an AP, as I did as a teacher, as I did as a volunteer, as I did as a parent,” Russell said.
Her role also includes testing coordination, working with new teachers, growing new teachers, planning professional development, classroom observation and giving feedback to teachers to coach them.
“We meet twice a week,” Russell said. “We meet Monday morning very early to look at what’s going on each day, what’s going on during the school day if there’s any PD (professional development) going on during the day that I need to tell them about, what’s going on after school, which APs’ or principals’ responsibility does that fall on. It’s kind of the logistics of the week.”
“… Then Friday afternoon, me and Ms. Herrera go over the instructional part, so the grade-level principals will know what’s going on instructionally in the building, where we’re at, have we been meeting goals, how are the teachers performing on the unit tests, how are the students performing because they focus more … on discipline and assisting students on problems with relationships,” Russell said.
There are calls that come over the radio for all hands on deck and she assists like everyone else.
“That teamwork comes together to help the issue at that time. It does not happen very often, even with as many kids as we have. … I have not seen a fight in two years. Not that they haven’t happened,” Russell said. She added that most of the fights at the middle school level are verbal.
Social media does help perpetuate disagreements. “The kids are smart. They are aware that we have cameras. They’re aware that all the teachers are watching because we have so many. Our teachers are very good about when the bell rings, they’re outside their door talking to students, watching students, building those relationships with students so I think students are aware here that’s there’s lots of eyes on them; that we care enough to be watching them,” Russell said.
Hoxie at New Tech is in her sixth year with Ector County Independent School District and her third year as an assistant principal. She has been at New Tech, Odessa High School and is now back at New Tech.
First and foremost, Hoxie said her job entails safety for everyone on campus, collaboration with the principal and district administration to ensure the school and district’s vision and mission are at the heart of everything they do.
Also, instructional coaching and support for teachers, enforcing and reinforcing district and school policies, discipline, attendance intervention, making parent contact and encouraging involvement, coordinating and assisting with testing, student interventions (with regards to graduation, behavior, academics, motivation, etc.) maintaining visibility and a strong presence on campus, support and decision-making for special population students, such as students in special education and English language learners.
It’s a long list, but Hoxie said she enjoys it. She said in an email that every day she learns something new and no two days are alike.
She said she wanted to become a principal to be in a position where she could reach, support and form relationships with more students, teachers and parents.
“I feel like the more you know your school and all of those who are connected, and the more you can show them that you are there to support them and care, the more successful your school (and its culture) will be,” Hoxie wrote.
Like Russell, Hoxie said time is her top challenge.
“There never feels like there are enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. Parents are not as involved at the secondary level and that can be challenging when it comes to getting students to comply with discipline, academics and attendance. The size of the student body and faculty can be a challenge at times because sometimes you feel like you’re unable to give everyone the time and support that they may need,” Hoxie said.
Learning by doing and getting a better understanding of the “why” behind what is being asked by the principal, district and state in terms of directives, policies and programs. “You learn to be a true multi-tasker and learn how to be adaptable and flexible on a daily basis. There are a lot of learning opportunities to grow in your craft and many individuals to support you along the way,” Hoxie said.
At times, Hoxie said she finds she has less time with her family because of school events and commitments and school and personal safety can be an issue occasionally when students act out and misbehave.
But the reward is seeing the fruits of her labor in terms of the impact she makes with students and staff. “There is nothing better than seeing a student make a complete turnaround because you chose to be persistent and consistent and not give up on them!” Hoxie said.
Being at OHS and New Tech, she said, were great experiences. She was a math facilitator at NTO, and opened the campus with the current interim principal Gerardo Ramirez.
The biggest difference is the smaller student and staff population at NTO. But both schools come with “challenges and great responsibilities,” Hoxie said.
“At OHS, my responsibilities were predominately student and staff support,” Hoxie said.
For staff, that meant instructional support, coaching and hiring. On the student side, it meant discipline, attendance, motivation, parent contact, ensuring they were following student code of conduct and special education decision making.
Russell said at New Tech, her responsibilities are the same, but she also is working with testing coordination, building school culture, recruitment and developing intervention and enrichment plans for end-of-course exams.
Although New Tech is smaller than OHS, Hoxie said it doesn’t make the job easier.
“… Because even though the population is smaller, the job responsibilities increase due to only having two administrators, a counselor, and a campus curriculum facilitator. At larger school, you have many more administrators and counselors, as well as individuals that are solely responsible for testing, curriculum and special populations,” Hoxie said.
Hoxie began her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin and finished with a degree in multidisciplinary studies. She received a master’s in bilingual/ESL education and took additional classes in educational leadership to satisfy her principal certification. ESL stands for English as a second language.
Hoxie said her mother always told her she would be a good teacher, but she never actually wanted to be an educator when she was younger.
“I went to college initially to be a doctor, but then changed my major several times because I was interested in, and wanted to learn about, many different things,” Hoxie said. “When I moved to Odessa and had my first child, I realized that I wanted to go into teaching because education had more value to me, knowing that one day my boy would be going to school.
“I also embraced my love of learning and wanted to share that love through teaching, with the hopes that I could get students to love learning, too,” she added.