The first time I ever visited my U.S. senator’s office on Capitol Hill, it really piqued my interest in advocacy on behalf of NASSP and principals throughout my state of Oklahoma. But I realized that while a visit to an office in Washington, D.C., is great, why not have elected officials and their staff come visit my school instead?

That’s why, for the last few years, I have regularly had visitors come to shadow me and see all the great things that happen in school. I have hosted the governor, state legislators, and field staff from members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation. Schools and schooling have changed tremendously over the past 20 years, and a lot of these lawmakers haven’t been in a school building in at least that long. What better way to really let them see how the money they allocate for public schools is being used than to have them visit so they can observe what the daily life of a principal is like?

Chris LeGrande with Kylie Northcott and Luke Vanderwork from Rep. Frank Lucas’ office.

I tend to do a few things on each shadowing visit. I start by having an informal conversation about how we use federal education funding in our school. For example, I recently hosted two members of U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas’ staff. I explained that we are very dependent on Title I funding to run our school, and I gave them some examples of how we use that money locally. We were able to purchase Chromebooks to help students who are engaged in distance learning or having to quarantine at home and lack their own device. They can go to the school library and check out a Chromebook just as they would a book.

Of course, I take visitors around to various classrooms including a special-needs classroom. We have a severe and profound special education classroom, and students there have a special adaptive physical education class they attend. I like the visitors to meet these students and see firsthand some of the challenges and adaptations we make to help them be successful.

I also like to take them to our career-technology classes, like family and consumer sciences or agriculture education. We receive a lot of federal dollars to support these programs, which promote college and career readiness for all our students.

Even though I love these visits, at the end of the day, it’s the students who benefit the most. I’m here to ensure they receive the high-quality education they deserve and part of that obviously involves funding from our federal government. When elected officials see how we’re spending those federal dollars and that we’re resourceful and good stewards of the money, then in the next round of legislative talks when they’re deciding on budgets, they can think back to how our schools are indeed using this money to support students.

I received a thank you letter the other day from the two members of Rep. Lucas’ staff, and it really reinforced our efforts to provide a high-quality education to our students here in Guthrie. They said it was great to see how we utilized funding in ways that have the best interests of students at heart.

I hope other principals not only in Oklahoma but around the country will see what a difference it can make when legislators visit their school. It’s one thing to get a surface view from the outside, but it’s so much better to come in and get an up-close look at what life is like in a 21st century public school.

About the Author

Chris LeGrande is principal of Guthrie High School in Guthrie, OK, and the 2020 Oklahoma High School Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@Chris_MLegrande).

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