Russ Heath is the Principal of Taft Elementary School in the Mesa Public Schools District
This Q/A is edited for brevity and clarity
Q: We know there is no one way to become a principal. How did you get to where you are now?
A: I started as a teacher and always looked for opportunities to learn new skills and responsibility. This passion led me into administration. Baby steps taking on more and more and the encouragement from others to continue led me to my first assistant principal position and from there to the principalship.
Having someone already in that position who encourages you is a big deal and being at the right place at the right time also helps. Do not be afraid of taking a chance, including relocating, to get to your dream.
Q: What is most rewarding about your work as a principal?
A: Every day is different. You are in charge of a small business. Everything from student growth, to physical plant management, to dealing with all the things that a school does in today’s world.
Q: Being an A+ School of Excellence™ school means your school has an environment of inclusivity, opportunity, and uniqueness. If you could choose one thing that sets your school apart from others, what would it be?
A: We strive to be a comprehensive neighborhood school that is the focus point of pride for all that live in our boundaries. This includes all we do 24-7, 7 days a week, from day care, great comprehensive education, exceptional customer service, and a place to hang out on the weekends as a family.
Q: What inspired you to apply for the A+ School of Excellence™ Program?
A: Seeing other schools in our district apply and realizing that we were a great school and should also be recognized as some of them have been recognized. There are only a few ways to measure yourself against standards that tell you how well you are doing. This award was one of those measuring opportunities.
Q: What have you learned about your school since receiving the A+ award?
A: We validated what we thought we were doing. We will continue to improve all of our goals that we use to create the Taft culture.
Q: With the summer comes a break from students but not a break from work. What are your goals for this summer break?
A: The first is to take time for me and my family away from work. Recharging one’s batteries are a key to success in this business.
Second, when I return to work I have a list of things that I must do every summer. All of them help to prepare for the return of students in early August. It takes time to go through this list.
And finally, now is the time to do my annual review of our overall goals from last year and prepare new goals for this school year. We begin by throwing out goals that did not help us improve, tweak some goals, and create new goals to continue to improve everything that we do.
We never rest on our past. Our past helps us define our future. We are constantly evolving and changing. That is my job as the general manager of my ball team.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in the fall semester?
A: I feel like I am the general manager of a sport team. My job is to “win.” Winning can mean many things but our overall goal is to be the best neighborhood school in MPS.
I have hired several new “players” (teachers) that will make my ball team better. I look forward to working with them and my returning veterans and most importantly the students who return to us this fall. Our goal is to have another winning season.
Q: Any advice or wisdom for other principals in Arizona?
A: I believe you must have a clear vision of what your school is about. Every school has its own uniqueness inside of a larger district. Make sure you know what it is and maximize that uniqueness. Next, you must hire good people. You are only as good as the folks you hire. Your staff will make you and your school reach your goals. Finally, be humble to everyone who comes into your school. There is no job beneath you. You are not the boss, you are the enabler. You help all who enter your doors reach their goals which in turn helps you reach yours.