By MARINA WATERS
What do a couple of pastors, a mayor and several local business leaders all have in common? On Friday, they were all “principal for a day” at one of Washington County’s 14 schools.
The district’s second annual Principal for a Day event kicked off throughout the school system as local community leaders took to hallways and classrooms to get a real-life look at what it takes to be a school’s head principal.
“This day really is to highlight (principals) and to also allow our community leaders to really see what it is a principal does all day,” Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said. “You have to be able to solve conflicts.
“Rarely does a parent come in and say, ‘Can I just have a few minutes of your time to tell you what an awesome job you’re doing?’ It’s a thankless job that our principals do everyday.”
Each principal chose a community member to take on the role of principal for a day at his or her school. And for some stand-in principals, they felt it was not a lackadaisical job.
“When I got there it was kind of crazy. Eighth grade was going on a field trip and one of the buses was late,” said Eddie Taylor, the Principal for a Day at Boones Creek Middle School. “Everyone was waiting on that so they were all running around.”
Taylor, who is the manager of Ingles, joined Jordan Hughes throughout typical duties such as attending meetings with various teachers and students. Though he got a very realistic look at all the tasks a principal must complete in a day, Taylor said he got a different view of this younger generation as well.
“I always thought kids these days were all about computers. But they were looking at these books and talking about which ones they wanted,” Taylor said. “It was different from what I thought. I see kids and how they act in our store. These kids though were a whole lot sweeter than what I thought.”
At the luncheon that concluded the Principal for a Day event, many stand-in principals said they came to realize a principal’s job doesn’t involve just one role; instead, they insisted, it’s a job that revolves around multitasking.
Gray Elementary’s Principal For a Day, Dennis Flaugher, who is the pastor at Gray United Methodist Church, said after taking on Head Principal Erika Patterson’s job, he saw Patterson as a woman who assumes a multitude of tasks in her school.
“When she’s not with students, she’s with teachers. If she’s not with teachers, there are parents,” Flaugher said. “When she’s not with students, teachers or parents, there is the business lady who controls the finances. There are meetings that can go two to three hours concerning budgets. Then there’s conversations with the assistant principal — it’s constant. It’s always changing.”
Apart from taking in all those roles, some stand-in principals also got a real sense of the importance of a school’s community.
For West View Elementary School Head Principal Patton Gamble, it was his guest principal, Town of Jonesborough Director of Public Safety Craig Ford, who revealed to him what the event was really about.
“There are some things I learned from him. He kind of put this day in perspective better than I could have,” Gamble said. “It was about building community. I thought this was about bringing someone in so they could see our school. But no, it’s about building relationships because that’s what we do in school every day.”
For Ford, seeing the school nurse at West View put food in some kids’ lockers reminded him of the impact those who work with students can have on a kid’s life. And that experience brought the whole meaning of the event full-circle.
At the luncheon, Ford retold a story from a friend of his who spoke to him after Ford’s mother-in-law, who used to be the head of the cafeteria at Lamar School, passed away.
“He said, ‘When we grew up, we had nothing,” Ford said, retelling his friend’s story. “A lot of times, the only time we ate through the day was what we got at school.’ He said, ‘I want you to know that your mother-in-law always managed to put a little extra on the plates of the kids at school that she knew didn’t have much to eat.’ At the time, he didn’t know what was going on, but now that he’s older he said he looks back and knows exactly what she was doing for them. So that was neat to see them putting food in those kids’ lockers.”
That significance lingered in the minds of the stand-in principals as they shared their experiences from the day, but they also noted the emphasis principals put on building relationships on a day-to-day basis.
“The love that these kids displayed for this gentleman and their teachers was awesome,” said Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe, who spent the day with Jonesborough Elementary School’s Head Principal Matt Combs. “You got to see it firsthand.
“Those little hearts and minds and eyes and ears all perk up when Mr. Combs comes in. (Combs) explained to me that his job is to build relationships with these kids and their parents and their teachers. That will benefit these kids for the rest of their lives.”
The selected community leaders might have seen what doing paperwork and meeting with parents and teachers is like for a principal, but more than that, they saw the passion and commitment that goes into a “thankless” job.
And for some, like Patterson — who proudly displays a letter in her office from a former student after he had moved schools — that passion comes from the kids who fill those classrooms.
“Honestly, my favorite part is probably what we’ve done this morning, walking around, talking with the teachers,” Patterson said, “and seeing the teachers make a difference in the lives of those kids. That’s the most important thing I do all day.
“At first you don’t see that direct impact you have on those kids like you do when you’re in a classroom, but once you get in and work with those teachers and have an impact on them, you see ultimately, the impact you have on the kids. It’s a whole different kind of success.”