Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 1 – 2020-21
Rep. Lisa Callan, AWSP’s 2020 Torch of Leadership Award Winner
State Rep. Lisa Callan (D — Issaquah) is AWSP’s 2020 Torch of Leadership Award Winner. Read more to learn about her and her thought on education policy.
Tell us about your professional experiences and why you got into politics over the past few years.
I am from a family of educators. My grandmother taught for many years on the Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. My grandfather was a school maintenance worker and knew more about school boilers than anyone I knew. My father was a middle school teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent, and then a dean of the college of education, and my mother was a K-12 college placement specialist for teachers and administrators.
I have a math/computer science engineering background and came to the Northwest to work for Boeing as a software developer, engineering lead, project manager, and supervisor. Then I went into software development consulting. Once I started my family, I quickly engaged with public education in the state and my local school district, and became active in volunteering and supporting all aspects of education delivery. An opportunity arose to run for the school board and I served five years there as the McCleary lawsuit was settled with the state. As a parent and school board director, I was keenly aware of the decisions being made by the Legislature and the impact they were having on our children and educators, and the workforce and industry in Washington.
This led me to run for the Legislature, wanting to be sure people writing and passing laws had a deep understanding of the impacts of those laws, and of course the funding that goes with it. So here I am today, with one legislative term nearly complete and thrilled to have such strong partners like AWSP to fight for policy and funding that keeps the whole child and educator at the core of every action.
School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to research done by the Wallace Foundation. Describe your vision of the role of school principals in schools today.
Principals set the tone and culture of the building, making it safe for every child and every staff member, and focusing on the whole person. They are masterful at managing the needs and responding to the daily tensions at play by anticipating, responding, and resourcing what is needed to address these issues. Principals give space for collaboration and teamwork with all staff to solve, mitigate, lead, and champion solutions to problems. The principal knows the heart and soul of the building, not just the operations and technical aspects of pedagogy. At this moment in time, it is more important than ever, for principals to be life long learners and to truly see their school community from the shoes of every single student and staff connected to it, seeking out systemic and structural racism, personal bias, discrimination, and points of harm to remove barriers.
Many principals find joy and satisfaction in their work. But according to the 2014 report “Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover” by the School Leaders Network, approximately 50% of principals leave their job after only three years. Why is there such high turnover and what are some solutions for stopping the churn?
We need to provide more resources to effectively reduce the workload for principals. Often the job is over 10 or 12 hours each day and realistically you are on call 24/7. We need to develop the workforce pipeline for building administration and effectively distribute leadership. We need to provide professional development and time for self-care for our building leaders.
Children have increasing social emotional needs and in order for a child to be ready and able to learn, all of their needs have to be met. Making this happen within the confines of school responsibility, liability, and funding and staffing is an ask that only gets more difficult each year so we have to keep working on this.
We have to make sure that our systems are accepting, welcoming, and that individual principals are valued! In our hiring practices, we have to recognize the skills and talents of all of our principals and make sure we put our strongest principals in the highest areas of need and support their work.
COVID-19 has radically changed education over the past few months. Districts are concerned about increased costs, future budget cuts, and trying to meet the varying needs of each and every student in their buildings (or in their homes as most schools begin completely online). We know there are disparities in education funding from district to district as well. What do you see as potential fixes for the continued disparities in education funding and potential future budget considerations for the education community?
We are trying to hold together school funding and support school districts with funding and resources to whatever degree they need. I don’t want funding to be lost. Funding needs to be flexible and it needs to meet staff and student needs. We should integrate silos like education and childcare, for example, and bring stakeholders together to help students thrive. Right now families are having to make the choice between keeping their jobs or staying at home with their children to help with their education. But families don’t have the pedagogy to do this. The teachers are the teachers. How can we be more responsive to families?
I want to make sure that the budget committee and legislators understand what role the K-12 system is playing in the overall economy. What we do in K-12 funding has an impact across other systems like childcare and healthcare. We need to hold districts harmless with enrollment because if there are job losses then that will impact other parts of the economy. Education funding is foundational.
Like many organizations, AWSP issued a statement last spring in response to the protests that began after George Floyd was murdered. Our racial equity statement can be found here. What are your thoughts about racial equity and the role that schools and educators can play in working to address systemic racism and unwind historically inequitable systems and practices?
Racial equity shows up in every aspect of education — in each lesson that is being taught and in all of our policies. School districts and school boards need to have an equity policy that creates the backbone for this work and supports the work that needs to be done. Individual growth and awareness for all staff including principals is important so people are enlightened. When we know better, we do better.
We need to collaborate and listen deeply to those who are marginalized and to those we don’t even know are marginalized. This requires deep listening--with staff, our families, and even our youngest learners. It is the adults’ job to create a safe space for children to learn and grow. One specific example of this is with grading policies. I would love to work more on this topic and think more deeply about how these policies prevent access to opportunities and how we can set these policies in a culturally responsive way.
Who was your favorite principal and why?
One of my favorite principals was Tony Gabaldon who was my elementary school principal in Arizona. (Fun fact: Mr. Gabaldon’s daughter Diana wrote the Outlander series!) Mr. Gabaldon was Hispanic and seemed just like Santa Claus to me. He knew all of the students and had an upbeat way of interacting with everyone. When I was in about third or fourth grade, I struggled with one teacher for a while and Mr. Gabaldon picked up on this. I’m not sure how he knew, but each day he would check in with me which helped me so much. I just felt like he knew who I was, and that he cared that my day was great.
Find us on
Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 1 – 2020-21