EDITORIAL: What Payton Needs From Its Next Administration

By Kate Lavin, Editor-in-Chief

A student-organized sit-in held in the Payton atrium in May demanded change in the way the administration operates

With the recent departure of Assistant Principal Dashe Rowland, Payton will select an entirely new administration for the 2021/2022 school year- the second year in a row in which this has been done. A new administration means a lot to any school and replacing one is both an operationally and emotionally strenuous process. As each mayor, governor, or president leads their respective city, state, or country in a different way, so does a school’s principal and vice principals. The administration sets a precedent for student behavior, demonstrating to their students what is and isn’t appropriate. 

The past school year was a medley of chaos, confusion and distress. Of course, what else is to be expected from a once-in-a-lifetime deadly pandemic? Coordinating the return of more than 1,000 students in the spring, after a lengthy remote learning period, was a logistical nightmare for everyone involved, especially Payton staff and administration. Pandemic aside, however, the year was marked most noticeably by the pain felt by students and teachers of color at the hands of the former administration. In a time when leadership and comfort was needed most, the Payton community was left in fear of losing not only their teachers, but their voices.

There has been extensive discussion about the environment created by former Principal Resh and her administration, whether it be between parents and teens at the dinner table, with teachers during a class, lengthy nighttime LSC meetings, or frustrated lunchtime deliberation. A previous Paw Print article reporting on Resh’s resignation explores this controversy in more extensive detail. This article is not for Resh, nor her administrative team. This article is for the students. It’s about what we need from new leadership in order to learn in a productive and safe environment, to be given the tools and guidance to flourish.

With that being said, the desired attributes of the new principal and their administration are fairly straightforward; after all, they are the very concepts that we, as a Payton community, strive to follow. The values I am referring to are, of course, the four Cs- courage, compassion, character and curiosity. 

In the words of Nelson Mandela, former South African president and revolutionary, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” These words, however simple, are a guide by which to live. I am not asking that our next administrators have no fear, that would be impossible. I am asking that they stand up to injustice by promoting marginalized voices and hiring more BIPOC teachers, instead of being too afraid to make meaningful and non-performative changes.

Payton was recently ranked the fourth best public high school in the country. It can be easy to hide behind our rankings, our test scores and to dismiss any room we have for improvement, but how is it that the best school in the state didn’t encourage community celebration of Black history month at Compass until only a couple years ago? How is it that our former administration gutted resources, such as the student referral form, used to support struggling students and give them help when they needed it? Admitting that Payton needs improvement will not tarnish our name nor our legacy. Not addressing the injustices will.

Where can the next administration look to for the best example of character, one of the four C values? No further than their own students. When the jobs of our teachers were publicly threatened, the students of our school did not sit back. A day of wearing red and changing Google Meet profiles to show support, followed by a school-wide sit-in, was organized to demand that Payton keep its teachers, especially BIPOC individuals. Students attended LSC meetings to question authority, to demand transparency and to not settle for performative allyship, no matter how much pushback they received. 

In many ways, the student response to the Resh administration opened my eyes to a world I had previously never known- a world where students refused to let their voices be silenced, where those voices created real, tangible change. Our next principal must respect the power held by the student body. They must listen to our needs, our wants, our triumphs and our troubles to truly understand, integrate, and work with the students. Most Payton students are legally minors, but we are not children. We have grown up in a world that has never allowed us to be young. We are mature enough to have intellectual discussions with leadership and would benefit from administrative transparency. In addition, we need someone who is inclusive and anti-racist, not just a facade of performative activism. Our previous administration caused so much pain for BIPOC students, teachers and staff during a time when there was already so much pain in the world. A leader of true character will not pretend to be something they are not, will not pretend to be perfect, nor demand to be seen as a white knight in shining armor. They listen, they act, and they will do whatever is needed for their students and the community, not only themselves. 

Payton has much to offer as a large and multi-faceted community. With that being said, the new administration does not need to just lead our community, they must be a part of it. They should make an effort to get to know their students, their coworkers, to listen to those who have been there longer and can offer advice. There is no shame in asking questions, especially when you are new to a school, and the driving force of curiosity will allow any new administrator to become acquainted  with the school and its way of operating. While principals and vice principals should know what is going on in and around the school, there is also a great impact in not holding onto the reins too tightly. Curiosity does not mean intrusion, but there must be enough curiosity to keep from drifting into negligence. 

The final, and perhaps most important C, is compassion. Courage, character and curiosity cannot exist without empathy for others and their experiences. Though the administration may not be able to relate, they must acknowledge that being a teenager in the 21st century is hard, and it is only getting harder. Juggling schoolwork and homework with extracurriculars, jobs held by employed students, social and home-life, while also trying to stay physically, emotionally and mentally healthy with the crazy and often scary world we live in is an unpaid full-time job. Add onto that a global pandemic as well as remote learning, and teenagers are more stressed, anxious and depressed than they’ve been in decades. Administrators must understand this, and our future principal must understand this. They should be helping to make our lives as students easier, not harder, and be willing to put in the time and effort to make that happen. 

Payton students are mature and independent, able to understand and advocate for themselves and others, but it is still an administrator’s responsibility to assist the students and teachers they are in charge of when needed. There is no age-limit for being supported and encouraged. A compassionate person improves the lives of everyone around them; they break down barriers and create a supportive environment. They do not work to tear down others to pave the way for their own success, but instead they build up those around them and offer a hand to those who need it most. This is what we need from our next principal and administrators. We need people who have our best interests at heart, who will speak up for the benefit of our community and who will give us the foundation we need to go into the next phase of our lives not only as better students, but as better people.

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