Every year during National Principals Month (NPM), NASSP encourages principals to host “shadowing visits” with members of Congress, state and local elected officials, and other community leaders. Shadowing visits are a key part of our advocacy strategy for one simple reason: they work. We’ve seen time and again the transformative impact that getting a lawmaker into a school setting can have as principals show them the needs of today’s students and educators. You have the power to win their support for the causes we all believe in, and we want you to use it!
This year, our shadowing visit program featured an exciting new component: a $2,500 prize in the form of a DonorsChoose grant for two school leaders who hosted the most exceptional visits. We are pleased to announce that Brandon Mowinkel, principal of Milford Junior/Senior High School in Milford, NE, and Kevin Bowman, assistant principal of Westwood Middle School in Danville, VA, have been selected as the recipients of this year’s prize. Principal Mowinkel and Assistant Principal Bowman both successfully navigated the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to safely host impactful and rewarding visits with officials in October.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) Visits Milford Jr/Sr High School
#Milfordsoar had the honor of hosting Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and State Senator Mark Kolterman yesterday! Thanks to both gentlemen for taking time out of their busy schedules to share in our story! @NASSP @JeffFortenberry pic.twitter.com/KN1s3JzwRT
— Milford Eagles (@MilfordEagles) October 16, 2020
In Nebraska, Principal Mowinkel reached out to a familiar face for his visit in Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. The congressman previously visited the school to speak with graduating seniors three years earlier, which was arranged by Mowinkel following a visit to the congressman’s Washington, D.C., office with NASSP after being named the Nebraska State Principal of the Year in 2017. The fact that he already had a relationship in place with Rep. Fortenberry and his staff was key to securing a visit this October.
“I sent invitations to both of our senators and Rep. Fortenberry. The senators declined because they were in middle of the Supreme Court confirmation process, but Fortenberry let us know that he would be in town for another event and could attend on short notice, and we moved quickly to make it work,” Mowinkel said in an interview.
While in the building, Mowinkel ensured that all COVID-19 visitor safety protocols were followed, including distancing, mask wearing, and temperature checks. One of his top priorities, in fact, was showing the congressman firsthand what the pandemic looks like on the ground in schools.
“I wanted him to see what schools are dealing with as it relates to [COVID-19] and everything that is going into keeping our staff and students safe. And I encouraged him to work on passing the stimulus package that Congress has been debating with at least $175 billion in emergency funding for schools.” Principal Mowinkel cited that as the NASSP state coordinator for Nebraska, delivering this message to his representative and senators has been something he’s focused on over the past few months as schools grapple with financial challenges posed by the pandemic. He’s been encouraging other school leaders and educators across the state to contact Congress and finish the job on the assistance package, and he plans to follow up with Rep. Fortenberry again later this month.
The visit wasn’t all policy talk, however, as Mowinkel also arranged for the congressman to speak to the graduating class in the auditorium. He spoke to the seniors about importance of finding a career and how he hoped they would think about staying in Nebraska where their talents were so needed. “It’s so important for students to see that their elected officials are real people that you can talk and interact with,” Mowinkel said, “They need to know that they have the power to influence policy decisions by speaking and advocating with these lawmakers.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) Visits Westwood Middle School
Westwood Middle School assistant principal Kevin Bowman wants to do all he can to ensure that elected officials have a real understanding of how learning has changed since COVID-19 forced most classrooms in Virginia into virtual settings. That’s why he extended invitations last month to his representative and senators to join a virtual class—so they can see how interactions change in the virtual setting and understand why teachers and schools need support.
After securing a visit from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bowman asked the senator to speak to students about his career in public service and how they could take their own first steps toward becoming an elected leader someday. “From an educational standpoint, we want kids to have a real-world experience and build that social capital,” Bowman said in an interview, “How many kids can say they got to speak with a senator, former governor, and former vice presidential candidate? We want them to know they can do that.”
Bowman said the while this was the first time he had invited elected officials to the school the speak, it won’t be the last. He has already followed up with Sen. Kaine after the visit. “I saw him the weekend before the election when he happened to be in Danville again for an event and invited him back for another visit. We’re going to be sending he and his staff Westwood Tiger T-shirts and asking him to post pictures wearing them on Facebook!”
Coordinating awareness and promotion of the senator’s visit was also a priority for Bowman, who worked with the district’s media relations staff to cover the event with their own “Chalk Talk” to local news outlets. The latter resulted in several print and television spots and positive exposure for Bowman and his team’s work, encouraging students to be civically engaged and providing opportunities to connect with prominent public officials.
Bowman encouraged more school leaders to take the initiative and invite lawmakers to the school, virtually or in person. “It’s definitely a worthwhile use of a principal’s time. Elected officials need to see how teaching is done during this pandemic. We’ve changed everything we used to do because of it. We need more resources and more technology to ensure all students have equitable access to education, and they need to see that. I also think that more educators should run for public office, ourselves. Our voices need to be in the mix, too.”
NPM is over, but every month is a good time to invite one of your elected officials for a shadowing visit! NASSP encourages you to follow the lead of these two exceptional leaders and access all the resources and guidance you’ll need to get started. We’d also love to brainstorm with you as you plan to extend invitations—contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s talk.
Greg Waples is the NASSP senior manager of State Engagement and Outreach.