Principal for a Day

Dallas ISD and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce with a number of business partners sponsor an annual Principal for a Day – where business people shadow a local principal for a day and see what life is like within Dallas schools. I thought it would be an interesting experience, so I volunteered. 156 or so others from the business world agreed with me, and volunteered as well.

There are actually a number of schools in DISD that I could claim a connection with – although I went to private school all my life. However, I know teachers all over the district through mentoring and IBM Summer Camps.

That said, I requested Dan D Rogers Elementary School since it was five minutes from my house, and I played football on their team when I was in third grade (I waited too long to sign up and the St Thomas Aquinas team was full. Never play against your classmates if you are on the offensive line. They tend to just knock you down and ignore the actual play).

I had a full day of activities. I met with Lisa Lovato, my Principal, before the actual day to discuss how I could assist her and what I could do during my visit.  She seemed surprised that someone had been assigned to her school, but when I explained five minutes versus the hour-long challenge that is my daily commute to Coppell, she understood. She had a long list of possible assignments for me to do – much more than a day’s worth. I was surprised to find some of my fellow Principals for a Day spent as little as a couple of hours at their school. While I understand time is tight, there didn’t seem to be much you could accomplish in two hours.

On my day as Principal, I shadowed Ms Lovato for part of the day and also managed to do lectures for a couple of classes – and do lunchroom duty! There is a lot to do in an elementary school.

The most stressful part of the day was doing the morning announcements – I was warned ahead of time, but the script was a bit longer than I expected, and I had to remember which were my lines and which belonged to the students assisting me!  Also, nobody told me the bell was going to ring in the middle of my speech. You cannot speak over the bell. Afterwards, one of the students was celebrating a birthday, and part of the announcement had been to remind him to come to the office and get his birthday pencil, so I got to sing “Happy Birthday” to him while presenting the pencil. At this point, I wondered if this was actually a Principal’s regular duty or just a wee bit of hazing.  Considering my singing, I think the student was more traumatized than I was.

One of the teachers actually called during my announcements to find out what a Dallas Principal for a Day was going to do – she had transferred from a district where students were principals for a day, so she didn’t know what to expect. It is always good to strike fear in the hearts of those working for you.

Ms Lovato and I did spot checks in a couple of classrooms – observing how the teacher was delivering the day’s lesson plans and taking notes for later discussion. We also visited the special needs pre-school classroom and visited with the kids, who were doing counting and color matching exercises. It was impressive to me how many of the students she knew by name – across all the grades.

Since I am the President of Sparky’s Pals and I do humane education as a volunteer, I did our “Be a Tree”  presentation on bite prevention to two of  the second grade classes and later to all four of the kindergarten classes. The presentations went well, and I had a lot of good questions from both classes. The only part that threw me off a bit was at the end of the kindergarten presentation I was asked “How does a dog smell?” I wasn’t sure how that was part of the presentation, but I said, “With his nose, like you do. If you don’t wash him, he smells bad.” {Ha, ha.) Next question – “How does a dog see?” Hmm. “With his eyes, just like you do.” At that point, one of the teachers mentioned they had been discussing the five senses just before they came to the lunchroom to hear me. Suddenly, the questions became clear.

I did lunch duty for the fourth and fifth grade, which is mainly reminding the students that there is a limited time to eat – but there will always be time to chat later in the day. It was also a good chance to talk to some of the students and get to know them, even though they were supposed to be eating. I was asked why I was so scared doing the morning announcements, and we had a good discussion on my lack of Spanish-speaking ability. If a student says, “I don’t speak English at all. I really don’t. Just Spanish.”, he may be fibbing.

It seemed like both a short time and a long day. I left before the parents started arriving to pick up their kids, since I could have been blocked in the parking lot. The staff was worried about my being able to leave on time, since there was a reception in Uptown for all the Principals for a Day and their “real” Principals. I reminded them I was still Principal for a Day and could just declare early dismissal. They all laughed politely.

Ms Lovato said a number of students asked if it was true I was the new principal. I guess “for a Day” was not emphasized enough.

Because of my time in the school, I’ve been asked to present at their upcoming Career Day, to be a reader at Dallas Reads (11/12/13 and 2/28/14) and I was also asked to help judge the Science Fair. So, I’ve gone from driving past Dan D Rogers on my way to work each day to being much more involved with the school. This was an added benefit.

I did see two of my IBM colleagues at the reception, so I was not the only IBMer. Hopefully, next year, we can find more volunteers.

I will be able to tell my colleagues that want to “help” in the local schools – the best way to volunteer is apparently to just show up – the principal and teachers will find something for you to do!

I will have to update my resume to include DISD Principal (for a Day) (Retired.) Well, I’m retired until next year, at least.