By The Gazette Editorial Board
Years ago, Iowa was one of the first states to pilot the use of School Administration Managers, SAMs for short. A few dozen schools use them today.
Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform blueprint unveiled last year initially called for the legislature to fund a SAM process training and continue financial support to hire SAMs in every Iowa public school building, but that reform idea was tossed out in legislative debate.
Legislators should revive the idea this session.
Generally, we’re wary of adding more front-office staff to schools. Students always should be the focus of our educational dollars.
But it seems there are potentially significant educational benefits to adding SAMS to Iowa schools.
A 2009 Wallace Foundation study of SAM usage nationwide found it allowed principals an increase equivalent to one full day per week in instructional time.
Sixty-two Iowa schools currently use SAMs, School Administrators of Iowa Executive Director Dan Smith told us this week. Some Iowa schools have been able to create SAMs without adding staff, but by simply redefining existing job descriptions. Others have hired additional staff.
“Our results are really good,” he said.
“In my mind, that has made a great difference in our building,” says Pam Schulz, SAM at Linn-Mar’s Wilkins Elementary School.
Linn-Mar was home to the state’s initial three SAM pilots. Now there are SAMs in every school building, Schulz said. She is starting her fourth year as a SAM. She works with custodial and secretarial staff, and supervises educational assistants. She’s the first contact for building maintenance issues, student discipline referrals, scheduling and other tasks.
“It has made a big difference in working with students,” Schulz said. “We’re seeing teachers being able to team and collaborate in ways that they hadn’t been able to before, because our principal is able to devote time to those instructional tasks.”
By removing day-to-day distractions and allowing principals to focus much more heavily on instruction, SAMs might have a clear, if indirect, impact on instructional quality and student learning.
It’s an idea worth pursuing.
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