Someone might ask, "Wait a minute, the principal is automatically part of the community. The principal is the community." HMMM. It seems to me that kind of a statements shows just how unhealthy a charter school community might be.
The principal is the academic leader. In small schools, the principal might also be the administrative, facilities and financial leader. However, the position is not the community. Leadership is a part of the community.
The principal plays a vital role. The principal must work well with the board, both doing what the board wants, but also often developing the board and challenging the board when the board is not fulfilling its role. In a larger school in which a director or other administrator supervises the principal, the principal still must work well with the director--both developing and challenging that leader.
The principal is also naturally the person that parents look to for guidance, advice, appropriate discipline as well as questions about the color of the carpet and walls.
For this reason, the principal also must develop parents' understanding of the mission of the school as well as the activities that the charter school will or will not pursue. Therefore, the principal must support the mission of the school. The principal is also responsible for making sure that teachers and other employees implement the mission of the school. Community works best when members are directed toward the same goal. One of the principal's main roles in the community is to help people see and follow that goal.
The community must strive to support the principal as long as the principal is upholding his or her role. The community is also responsible to fairly and honestly hold the principal accountable for performing this role. The board must not allow the principal to take the school in a direction away from the mission, but should also encourage and reward the principal for performing the role well. Parents and teachers need to understand the difficulty of the principal's role. This is, perhaps, the greatest weakness of the community--understanding just how difficult the role is.
The difference between the principal role in the charter school community and other roles is that the principal is expected to be both "one of the gang" and the leader of the gang. Board members can often hold a little more distance and do not have to be as intimately involved. In fact, because they provide oversight, there is a sense in which they can't be intimately involved.
The principal is both everyone's friend and everyone's leader. This can create tension in those who are people pleasers. It can also create difficulty for those who are great organizers and technicians, but who do not have good people skills. To develop a healthy community a principal must be able to both work well with people as well as understand the organizational structure that allows the school to work.
In addition, the principal must be able to evaluate and develop excellent teaching. It would be nice if every teacher hired was excellent. It would be nice if every teacher hired understood and taught using the methods supported by the school. However, sometimes teachers are hired that are not yet excellent or do not know the methods used by the school. The principal must be able to recognize which teachers need help and must provide that help.
The healthy charter school community both respects this principal role as well as supports and encourages the principal. At the same time, the healthy charter school community accepts the principal's guidance without allowing the principal absolute monarchy. It's a tough balance, but necessary to maintain the community.