Public Papers

Remarks to National Distinguished Principals Award Recipients


Thank you, Mr. Secretary. One of the joys of my job is working with our Secretary of Education, Dr. Cavazos. And we're in sync; we agree on the priorities. And thank you very much for presiding today. To Sam Sava, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, welcome to the White House, sir, and to my friend Paul O'Neill, to whom I will refer in just a minute.

I'm delighted to welcome this distinguished group to the White House. I know there's one educator here today whose thoughts are focused on his kids and schools back home, Ray Tolcacher, superintendent of Windsor Union School District in San Francisco. Where is he? Right over here. One of the reasons I've kept you all waiting is our concerns in dealing with a few little things regarding this situation in the bay area. And we just hope that your kids and your schools and all the families are safe and sound, and I know it's a matter of national concern -- this disaster that hit yesterday. I want you to know also that we will do whatever we can to help. I'm going from here over to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], the emergency center, and I've talked this morning to our Vice President and to Sam Skinner [Secretary of Transportation], who flew all night to join Dan Quayle out there. And we're working closely with the State officials. So, it is a matter of grave national concern.

I expect your students are all thrilled that you're in Washington. [Laughter] And you all, I think, have demonstrated that you have mastered a job that most people couldn't begin to cope with. Imagine being CEO, Paul, of a corporation where the rank and file average age is about 8 -- [laughter] -- and half of them don't bring their lunch money. [Laughter] And you juggle all this, everything from substitute teachers to bus schedules, and many of you still find time to get into that classroom every single day. And there's always energy for something extra, whether it's Jane Wakukawa getting out with the crossing guards every morning to talk to parents that are walking their kids to school or Anthony Link and Sally Liechty lecturing at colleges in their communities after the school day is over.

And that's what puts you at the head of the class. And that's what makes your schools the most successful, because more than any other factor, what sets a school apart is you, the principal. And the simple fact is, under our system of education there is no substitute for a strong principal, one who gives students and teachers a sense of direction, and one who helps develop through them a sense of learning for the children and learn the lessons in character that apply in and out of the classroom. Character is shaped by all of you.

And I know for you and your family and friends this is a proud day. It should be -- all those years of hard work and dedication paying off -- and you've earned all the recognition that's going to come your way. And enjoy it, because when you get back, you know what it's going to be like. [Laughter] No, but educators from schools all over your State are going to want to know, we hope, the secret of your success. Share it with others. Each of you is a case study in what does work, and we have to learn from you in order to make all our schools better.

And what works is what matters. And you all know how deeply -- I hope you do by now -- how deeply Barbara and I both care about the quality of learning in our classrooms. And as you know -- and Larry [Cavazos] alluded to this -- I asked the Governors from each State to meet with me at that education summit for 2 days of intense discussions there in the beautiful setting, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And we came out of that summit in a very united way -- Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, whatever. We came out with a new sense of resolve, with a new consensus on what we have got to do to strengthen our schools. And the Governors and I agreed that we've got to work together to raise overall performance and cut the tangle of redtape that keeps you and your teachers from doing the best possible job.

And that does mean expanded -- I heard this over and over again when I first got to be President and began hearing it from Dr. Cavazos, but I've heard it from so many people and all of the Governors -- expanded flexibility on the State and local level, greater choice, more power in the hands of parents and their children to decide which schools and what kind of education is right for them. And I am convinced that choice can spur innovation and educational excellence. And we aren't going to tell you what works best from Washington -- that was the clearest message I got out of that conference. Just the opposite: The whole point of flexibility and choice is to see that decisions affecting our schools are made where the interest and expertise is the greatest, right there in your schools and in your communities.

And as all of you know, our schools and our communities prosper most when they join together in common cause, when one of the lessons our children learn is community consciousness, the importance of getting out of the classroom and getting involved in community service. And of course every community is a rich source of expertise and support for our schools. And that's why I'm also pleased to single out today my dear friend, one of the busiest men in America, Paul O'Neill, to announce his appointment to serve as Chairman of the President's Education Policy Advisory Committee. This Committee, the first created in my administration, includes leaders from business -- and here is Paul, head of Alcoa -- from business and labor, educators at every level, State and local officials, as well as representatives from the media.

And Paul has served in top positions in government before, and in the private sector, and he and I have been talking about this since before I became President. He is deeply concerned about helping to bring quality education to all Americans. We've discussed the work that he's doing at Alcoa to enhance the literacy of the work force, of the people that work at Alcoa. I am confident that under his dedicated leadership, this Committee will not be just one more advisory committee, but this Education Advisory Committee will provide us with an abundance of excellent advice. And I know Paul's going to leave here today with a greater appreciation of the difference that first-rate principals can make.

One final point: As a nation, we do need to give greater recognition to the role that principals and teachers play in our society. And that means greater rewards. And it means greater respect from the community; it means greater recognition of the best in the business. And that's why I've invited you today. It's an example to others. You are the best, and you know what it takes to make our schools even better.

And so, I want to thank you for setting an example for kids to admire and especially for other educators to emulate. My congratulations to every one of you. My thanks for making a difference for every single child who walks into your schools. Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you so much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 10:28 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Jane G. Wakukawa, principal of Kaala Elementary School in Wahiawa, HI; Anthony E. Link, principal of Maple West Elementary School in Williamsville, NY; and Sally Liechty, principal of Emma C. Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines, IA. An earthquake that registered 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the San Francisco Bay area on October 17.