“May I help you?” speech therapist Kathleen Crane asked the pleasant-faced, curly-haired, parentish looking fellow standing uncertainly in the halls of Payson Elementary School (PES) on the first day of school.
“I’m Ron Hitchcock, the new superintendent,” he answered. “Just wandering the halls to see how the first day works out for everyone.”
Crane’s eyes flew open as she apologized for not knowing him right away. Hitchcock reassured her, then spent a few moments asking about how things were going. She relaxed and looked like she appreciated the one-on-one attention from the top administrator of the district.
But like everyone else on the first day of school, Hitchcock worried about what people would think of him, where to go, and thought hard about what to wear.
“See, there’s another kid who wore a tie like I did,” he said while at Julia Randall Elementary (JRE), pointing to a student with a T-shirt sporting a silk screened tie.
Unlike most students, however, no one made fun of his name.
Guess being the boss has its perks.
That didn’t save him from getting lost, however. He ended up at a dead end in the Payson Center for Success parking lot.
“I kept following the arrows and had to turn around,” he sheepishly said a couple of times during the day in which he was shadowed by a Roundup reporter.
Hitchcock’s first day at school started early, with a 7:30 a.m. staff meeting at Payson High School.
Ironically, he ended up sneaking in a little late and standing in a corner without a seat. Luckily, he didn’t get detention or have to go to the principal’s office.
“The traffic from road repair held me up longer than I anticipated,” he said as an excuse.
His late arrival forgiven, Principal Anna Van Zile gave her troops a rousing pep talk. Some sat with confidence, some had eyes bugged out with performance anxiety and others just wanted to get to their classrooms to start the day.
Clearly, not only children and superintendents worry about the first day of school.
Though Hitchcock arrived late and got lost, that just gave him a chance to bond with all the other late, lost students and parents.
At JRE, a teacher’s aide held the hand of one little boy as she smartly guided him toward his third grade class.
“He didn’t hear the whistle that ended recess. I’m just helping him get back to his classroom. Typical of things that happen on the first day of school,” she explained as she walked by Hitchcock.
He grinned in response.
At RCMS, Hitchcock watched Diane Fletcher’s sixth grade math class march back into the classroom after a tour of the building.
Some of the students looked at him shyly.
“This is my first day at PUSD,” he offered in solidarity, “I don’t know where all the classes are — just like you.”
The students’ faces brightened as Fletcher introduced the class to the new superintendent.
Hitchcock had an easy manner with everyone he met, readily admitting to his lack of logistical experience in the new district. Students, staff and parents responded positively to his candor.
At the high school, Hitchcock watched a teacher trying to leave campus on an errand instead take the time to help a lost parent.
“At the high school, a staff member helped a parent before she left campus by walking the parent to the office, then she left,” said Hitchcock, proud of the customer service the employee exemplified. “Everybody appreciates customer service.”
Throughout his tour of the district’s five schools, he saw customer service in action over and over, despite the opening day jitters.
“Silky smooth,” responded JRE Principal Rob Varner. “Much better than last year.”
The previous year, many JRE and PES students forgot that the two schools had divided up kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth, instead of housing all the elementary grades.
Varner said many children got off the bus looking for their first or second grade class at JRE, only to dissolve into tears when they learned they were at the wrong school. Even the bus drivers where a bit confused, said Varner. They left off many younger children, forgetting the schools had changed.
Varner said it made for an interesting first day.
At PES, anxious parents waited at the office to pick up kindergartners finishing up the morning session.
“They like to pick up the little ones on the first day,” said Principal Donna Haught as she monitored the lunch crowd at the playground, “They don’t quite trust the buses yet.”
PES has instituted a new way of doing recess and lunch. Instead of having whole grades converge on the cafeteria at one time, each class gets a staggered release to recess then are called into lunch by a loud whistle and a card with the name of their teacher. The children go into lunch a little tired from running off energy, without filling the cafeteria to over capacity.
“The system seems to work well,” said Haught.
After a long day full of new people, confusing scenes, and strange classes at five different campuses, Hitchcock made it home with the single best bit of news a newbee can glean from the first day of school.
He liked all his teachers.