Students arrive, along with boss Superintendent visits five schools on the first day of classes

September 01, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

It's the first day of school -- kids are lost, schedules are confused and teachers are scrambling to deal with final details. About the last thing anyone expects or needs at this point is to see her boss walking through the front door.

But there was schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham in the office at Van Bokkelen Elementary School yesterday on the first day of school, as about 600 excited students filed in.

"Well, I'm not shocked to see her," Principal Rose Tasker said, but she had no warning that hers would be one of five schools chosen for a first-day visit from the top administrator.

Parham, who has visited schools at the beginning of each year for five years, travels alone to avoid a fuss. She gives no warning and expects no special treatment.

When Tasker offered to show her around, Parham politely declined.

"I just want everyone to act normal," she said, breezing past Tasker on her way to a classroom.

"I don't want them to worry about how they act, whether the children are behaving right, or what they are doing. I know what they are doing is right."

Jennifer Sponaugle's second-graders were reading a story about a dragon when Parham walked in. The children didn't know who she was until Sponaugle introduced her.

"Good morning, you all look like you have been here for weeks," Parham told the children gathered in a circle. "You are learning and really paying attention. How many of you have read a book this summer?

Most of the children raised their hands.

"You all look very bright and smart, what grade is this, sixth grade?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

Squirming and giggling, the children corrected her.

"You all are so smart. Are you sure this isn't sixth grade?" she asked before saying goodbye and heading for the next classroom.

It was much the same at the other schools where she stopped to tie children's shoes and chat with teachers and parents.

"With the little people, I talk about paying attention and getting along with each other," Parham said.

"With the older kids, I like to ask them what they think my job is and what they think I do."

At Marley Middle School, she let herself in through the kitchen door, greeted the cooks and inquired about the lunch menu -- sloppy joe subs or chili hot dogs. After she announced herself at the office, Principal John Kozora showed her around the school.

In a sixth-grade class, she asked the students what they thought her job was.

"You suspend us," one student said.

Without skipping a beat, Parham responded: "Tell me what you can do to not get suspended."

"Don't fight, be respectful of others and follow the rules," the girl replied.

Pleased, Parham later said: "See, so she knows what to do and how to stay out of trouble."

Yesterday was a bright spot after after a long summer of budget battles, cuts and hard choices. Since May, Parham, the school board and County Executive John G. Gary have been battling over school funding.

"This year, I want to try to keep focused on instruction and the improvement of academic achievement," she said.

"And there are a lot of distractions to that."

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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