Do Schools Really Need Principals?

Matt Collette:

Rafiq Kalam Id-Din is walking down a hallway at Brooklyn’s Professional Prep charter school when he sees a fourth-grader in the doorway of a so-called “djed room.” The room, named after an ancient Egyptian symbol for stability, is a quiet, safe space where students can recollect themselves if they’ve been disruptive or a teacher suspects they’re about to become so.

“Are you here by choice, or did you get sent here?” Kalam Id-Din asks. The student’s head is down, and he hedges a bit before acknowledging that a teacher saw him acting up and suggested he step out before the behavior escalated.

At Professional Prep, teachers can’t send their kids to the principal’s office. Because there isn’t one.

One of three “managing partners” at the school, Kalam Id-Din is about the closest thing Professional Prep has to a school leader. Yet his main job is to teach a group of 20 or so fourth-graders rather than deal with the day-to-day administrative issues—hiring, discipline, staff and parent meetings—a typical principal might handle. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The school’s entire approach to discipline, for instance, was designed by teachers and was rooted in the idea that every action is a deliberate choice by a student. Kalam Id-Din says the djed rooms are much more effective than a trip to the principal’s office, citing the school’s low suspension rate as evidence.