school leadership

Being a School Principal and a Parent of a Special Needs Child Took Me Under, But I’m Coming Back

For five years, I was principal of one of the most difficult schools in my urban district. In those five years, I had eight supervisors. They varied from supportive, attentive and understanding of work-life balance to intimidating, threatening and sabotaging. I worked all the time—late hours and weekends. My family practically raised my firstborn child while I did my job. My work phone rang as early as 5 a.m. Staff called at midnight to say they would be sick the next day. A burglary in the school once dragged me and my children out of the house in the wee hours. During my tenure, I suffered two miscarriages. One actually occurred at work and I continued with my workday. Then the good Lord blessed me with twins. I once feared I could have lost them due to a physical threat from a parent. To top it all off, each year I dealt with racial prejudices from White mothers who tried everything in their power to sabotage my position as principal. Don’t get me wrong. Working as principal in a urban, poverty-stricken school, I knew had to ensure that I was adhering to the guidelines of our leadership framework and show evidence of being an effective principal. My practices and decisions were not always likable and I know many staff and parents disagreed with my methods and even attitude. I had to argue with district leadership to get them to understand my vision, confront parents and students and tackle the hard conversations with staff that sometimes led me to fear union pushback.

Every Day, I Woke Up Expecting a Fight

Everyday I woke up anticipating a fight with a parent, a student, a teacher or the district. Through it all, my main priority and only concern was always the students that I served—and I made decisions in consideration of their education and well-being. But with all of the fights I endured at work, the biggest fight was the relationship at home. I’m currently raising a child with special needs. My 8-year-old daughter has been in five schools. At the time of her diagnoses and evaluations, she wasn’t able to manage school without assistance from me. If I wasn’t late to work due to getting her settled in the classroom, I would get a phone call once I got to my office telling me to come get her. Once I learned I was pregnant with twins, it became even more disturbing with all of the advanced maternal and high-risk interventions and supports. In my last year as principal, I had three different supervisors and cried every day. I had no time to transition from my full-time day job to my full-time night job, both of which bumped heads constantly. One day, my final principal supervisor asked me, “Are you happy?” In response, I just broke down. She advised me to take some time off and encouraged me to write my own story before there was an accountability conversation. However, I chose to continue to serve my community. So I decided to demote myself to assistant principal.  I was able to secure an assignment closer to my home and my children. Even though, the workload and accountability diminished, there were moral dilemmas at the school that I could not lead or change.  I struggled with not being in control. To add on, there were more responsibilities at home that were unmanageable. As a result, I hit rock bottom and my hardships affected my belief in myself.

No Matter What Life Throws at Me, I Still Have Gifts to Give My Students

My job is an ultimate trigger for me and I have spent 30 days in an intensive outpatient program learning to cope with those triggers. I am following my physician’s orders with therapy and medication and incorporating mediation, nutrition and fellowship into my daily life. There are still days when I can’t get out of bed and will isolate myself from everyone, even my family. I want better for myself and even though it is extremely hard to find time for myself, I am trying to choose myself first.
An original version of this piece ran on Nov. 26 and has since been updated.
Lynnea C. Cornish is a mother of fraternal twins and a school-age daughter with special needs. As a native of Maryland, she attended Baltimore County schools and has worked in Baltimore City schools for over 15 years. Her daughter entered Baltimore City Schools in 2015 and now Lynnea is experiencing City Schools from a parent point of view. Lynnea started her career with the Urban Teacher ...

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