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Monday, November 28, 2011

Unintentionally, yet Most Excellently

Unintentionally, yet Most Excellently
A Way for “Doing Partnerships”

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Any Given Affidavit in a Principal’s Career --



Dear [_________________] Police Department Officials:

Early Tuesday morning, at approximately 9:00 a.m., office staff members received a report from two credible and reliable students that [Student X] was attempting to sell marijuana in the upstairs boys’ restroom.  As we heard the student was still in the restroom area, [Assistant Principal Y] & and I proceeded to the location immediately and initiated questioning of the student. 

As we spoke with [Student X], who did not have permission to be in that area of the school building without a hall pass, we noted a distinct odor of what we thought was marijuana emanating from his breath and clothing; his eyes were also quite bloodshot. [Student X] was relatively inarticulate as he spoke with us and seemed unable to take things seriously.

Based upon both reasonable suspicion and a preponderance of evidence that the student could be under the influence or in possession of marijuana, a danger to himself and others and in violation of our school’s safe and drug-free schools policies, we initiated a pocket and personal item search and found approximately ½ ounce of a substance that appeared to be marijuana in his book bag.  A pipe with resin was also found, as were rolling papers and a lighter.  All artifacts and substances found were clearly delineated in our Student Handbook as contraband in violation of school rules, some of which necessitated a call to law enforcement.

Upon confiscation, we secured chain of custody of the contraband by sealing it in an envelope, labeling and signing it as to its contents, and locking the envelope in a secure location until the arrival of police.  We also performed a search of the student’s locker and found nothing inside and made three separate attempts to contact the students’ parents using the telephone numbers provided to the front office. When those attempts proved unsuccessful, we appointed a school official not involved in the investigation, in-loco parentis, to represent the student during law enforcement conversation until parents arrived. 

Police Department Officials took possession of the contraband and asked that we follow-up with an affidavit.  The student was sent home with his parent and was cited for possession of a controlled substance on school property.  The school initiated disciplinary action, as per the terms and conditions of the Student Handbook.

If you have further questions, please feel free to stop by or call at anytime.  Thank you for your help and assistance.


[School Principal]


A few weeks ago, while providing some professional development in my home state, I took some time to visit a local police station for a talk with an old friend, Dan, now Police Chief in a community in which I served formerly as a Superintendent.  We shared stories, caught up a bit, and reminisced of a time he was on patrol and I was a school leader. 
One thing he said caught me by surprise -- “You know, Ryan … we really enjoyed how you made our job easier, each and every time we had to take a report from an incident at your school.”
I was taken aback.  “What do you mean, Dan, making your job easier?”  I thought he was kidding. You see, I always felt that it reflected upon my leadership each time an officer needed to be called to my school.  I never thought it made anyone’s job easier.
He responded, “Well, it was the way you used to write statements.  After any given call to your building, we would simply come back to the station, go to our fax, pull your statement, and celebrate the fact that you really did such a nice job in report writing for all of us." 
He continued, “The day shift loved your reports. So did the prosecutors and judges.  They were airtight.  Thanks for that!  We didn’t mind coming to your school at all.”
In the many years we had worked together, I never realized this.  I didn’t think anything of it; I only wrote reports as I knew how – carefully, thoroughly, and expeditiously – then went on to the other 100 items in my “in-box” for that day.

Since our talk, I now realize that one of the reasons my reports went over so well was that I paid attention to my graduate classes in school law.  I studied hard, read deeply, and knew the law. I found it important. Without even much thought, my reports included such things as the credibility and reliability of information upon which action was taken, standards of evidenced used for questioning of suspects, the scope and sequence of searches & seizures, due diligence in maintaining sanctity of evidence once collected, demarcation between law enforcement and civilian jurisdiction and responsibility, steps taken to secure the rights of those accused, especially with children under the age of 18, and the statutory privileges we have as school officials to conduct investigations to maintain safe schools, which in many states exceed the power and authority of our friends in law enforcement.  My reports evidenced the fact that everyone was on the same page and we all had our act together. We were a good team.
In short, my efforts in report-writing (something to which I never gave 2 seconds thought over an entire career until my talk with Dan) unthinkingly gift-wrapped most all that a police officer could want – as they included a tight and tidy presentation of all that one could potentially be grilled over by constituents or supervisors if things had gone sloppily.  Further, my reports allowed police officers to use the content as easy reference pieces in writing their own. 
I now better understand that every time I asked my friends in law enforcement to help us do our jobs, I ensured without even thinking, two things:  (1) That their desires for a job-made-less-complicated were met as best as they could, and (2) That their constituents would be pleased by their assisting us on behalf of students and community. 
This now has me thinking whether or not I did so as well for the Chamber of Commerce president, our Local and State Politicians, Philanthropists, and a plethora of other friends that I kept close at hand and requested assistance from over many years in school leadership.

Recently, if you have seen me at a speaking engagement, you have probably heard me promoting a School Principal’s need TO THINK during the school week – at least two hours per week on average.  Consider (1) and (2) above as “topics next” if you are taking time to do just that. 

If we as School Principals are asking community partners – whether police officers, business leaders, butchers, bakers, or candle stick makers – to invest their time, talent, and treasure in schools, then we should probably take time to think, “What’s in it for them?” and “Are their needs being met?”
In short, if trusted partners and friends make investments in our schools, are we helping to ensure that they better off than before they made such?  Ideally, the world would be full of intrinsically motivated people who simply help us for the love of children, and maybe this is the case in your local community.  I hope so, as I have encountered this to an impressive degree in mine.
Yet let’s not be naïve – In order to best serve the working professionals who are motivated, from time to time, by incentives enticing them to add value to what we are doing with children, we can fashion our efforts to make it “even more worth it,” each and every time they step up to the plate.  It starts by our doing our job better than most.
You’ll probably find that in most cases of “doing partnerships,” it’s simply our serving “unintentionally, yet most excellently” in leadership that makes the difference.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached for comment at and encourages ideas and suggestions for Blog content helpful to K-12 school leaders making a difference!

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