John Torres, Susan Burt and Will Toler at Merriman Park Elementary

Volunteers from organizations around District 10 fanned out into Lake Highlands area schools Thursday to take over principals’ offices, and they learned a big lesson – serving as Principal for a Day is tougher than it looks.

“Oh, this is harder than anything I do all day,” admitted John Torres, senior vice-president at CitiBank and community service director for the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands. Torres and fellow Exchange Club member Will Toler split leadership duties at Merriman Park Elementary.

“As a community partner, it’s great to see how we can supplement schools like Merriman Park. It’s not always just about writing a check. It’s also about leveraging our partnerships with different organizations around the city.”

“This is such a fantastic school, but we still have needs,” said MPE Principal Susan Burt. “We want to build relationships with the community and have them come in and see the amazing things happening inside.”

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RISD has a secure double-buzz entry system, but Burt said she wants parents and other stakeholders to feel comfortable at the school.

“It’s my goal to make the community feel welcome. We have very strict security guidelines that we adhere to, and people understand that as long as we communicate.”

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Burt and many of her fellow RISD principals and teachers are prolific tweeters, sharing achievements of students and teachers through Twitter using hashtags like #imapanther, #FLALeads and #risdconnects.

“The Principal for a Day program gives community members a chance to see life through the lens of a teacher and through the students’ perspective,” said Katrina Collins, principal at Skyview Elementary. “They also see who I am and what makes me tick.  A leader can drive a building’s culture. Hopefully there’s evidence of positive climate and positive conversations, because my teachers go so far to discipline with dignity. The kids have so many things going on these days, but we can be centered in all that we do.”

Skyview is one of RISD’s most diverse campuses, with more than 40 languages spoken in homes and students arriving as refugees from Syria, Iraq, Burma and other war-torn countries.

“When they hear the fire alarm, they run and it takes a long time to find them,” Collins told me. “We find them in crevices and hiding places. They think a bomb is coming.”

Sylvia Bodell, owner of Bodell Communications and assistant at the Lake Highlands Public Improvement District, shadowed Collins at Skyview, and she admitted keeping up with the energetic principal and her teachers was a challenge.

“I’m incredibly encouraged, because these teachers aren’t just here to get a paycheck. They have a love for everyone who comes through that door.”

Also volunteering as Principals for a Day were Elizabeth Widfeldt (Children’s Heath), Rob DeHaas (Dallas Teacher Residency), Noah Bunn (Arc Content + Communication), Breon Dennis (Frisco Rough Riders), Officer Torres (LHHS SRO), Debora Lugo (Asst. Principal Intern), Daniel Crisler (Trinity Athletics), Paul DeRousselle (Community Prosecutor), Nakia Douglas (UNT Dallas), Lynn Davenport (Community Activist), Kathy Stewart (LH PID), Drexell Owusu (Dallas Regional Chamber), Pam Gerber (City of Dallas Commissioner) and Stedman Valentine (City of Dallas).

Katrina Collins and Sylvia Bodell at Skyview Elementary

Students at Forest Lane Academy received dental sealants, courtesy of Texas A&M

Dr. Stephen Crane with Lariza Liner, Elizabeth Widtfeldt and students at FLA

Carrie Breedlove and Nakia Douglas at LHJH

Officer Torres and Charmaine Curtis at TME

Noah Bunn, Phillip Henderson and Stedman Valentine at Moss Haven

Emily Gruninger and Ron DeHaas at LHE

Debora Lugo and Frank Patranella at Wallace

Kerri Jones and Paul DeRousselle at FMJH