On Religion, The Media and Life as a 20-something in Chicago

This was my first “Town Talk” column in the three years I’ve been at The Courier-News. And my editor made it the cover story. For more photos of my day as principal of Sunnydale Elementary School in Streamwood, Ill., check out the Courier’s photo gallery. I need to work an approximate number, a sentence with fewer than five words and a fraction written as a word into this column. That’s because the sixth-graders in Joanna Kadlec’s classroom at Sunnydale Elementary School in Streamwood are working on a newspaper scavenger hunt, and those are the things Leslie Robles said Thursday she and her classmates were having trouble finding. And I owe Leslie one. Leslie had won a raffle earlier in the school year to be principal for an hour. And since I was at Sunnydale to shadow Principal Denise Lockwald as part of Elgin School District U46’s third Principal for a Day program, I was looking for advice. Especially when the first thing I saw at Sunnydale was a big banner: “Hanover Township’s Principal of the Year.” That’s a hard act to follow. “Print out more horseshoes,” Leslie suggested. “Horseshoes” are tickets that teachers, principals and visiting community members can give out to students upholding the school’s values of being responsible, respectful and safe. They can be redeemed for snacks and other small prizes, such as the ever-popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or entered into raffles for opportunities such as becoming principal for an hour. Leslie said that as principal, she “just walked around school. I got tired.” I gave her a horseshoe. She was right. There was a lot of walking around during the one-half of a day I spent shadowing Lockwald at Sunnydale. There also was one student who had thrown up on the bus, one who had thrown up in the hallway, one with a nosebleed, and a cracked drain tile that flooded the parking lot to take care of first thing in the morning. “It’s different every day — like your job,” Lockwald said. “I never know what’s going to happen. There is a schedule, but the kids make the schedule.” Lockwald has being doing this for 30 years — 19 years as a teacher and 13 as a principal (seven of those at Sunnydale). She had always wanted to be a teacher but never a principal — not until one of her principals encouraged her to give it a go, she said. “There are days I miss the classroom, but I get to be in the classroom whenever I want to be,” she said. On Thursday, we stopped in the kindergarten classroom to see the eggs students were hatching. We planted a tree with students for Earth Day. We also visited a fourth-grade classroom so I could answer questions the students had prepared, and a first-grade classroom to read students’ favorite book, “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale,” by Mo Willems. The fourth-graders asked really thought-provoking questions, such as “Who is your inspiration as a reporter?” I had to think about that one until one student suggested, “Is it Sherlock Holmes?” Yes. Isn’t Sherlock Holmes everybody’s inspiration? The first-graders’ question-statements were easier to answer: “I think! Reporters! Are nice!” Answer: “Thank you. We don’t get to hear that all that often.” A total 65 community leaders participated in the Principal for a Day event, according to U46. They included Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda, state Rep. Keith Farnham, state Sen. Michael Noland, Elgin Community College President David Sam, Judson University President Jerry Cain, financial advisers, foundation members and others. U46 Superintendent Jose Torres said he got the idea for the event from his time working in Chicago Public Schools. And he hoped, he said, we Principals for a Day would “walk away with firsthand knowledge of what it takes to run a school.” It takes a walkie-talkie, a lot of singing stuffed animals, comfortable walking shoes, long hours, a sense of humor, patience and flexibility, I learned. Melody Huisinga, retiring principal of Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett, explained why. She echoed Lockwald: “I don’t think there is such a thing (as a typical day as principal). Every day is completely different. You talk to children. … But every day is different, and that’s what makes it so exciting.” To the 30 or so students in Ms. Kadlec’s class, I hope this helps.

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

What it takes to be principal (Sun-Times Media)

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