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MCISD program offers glimpse into life as a principal

Mims Elementary Principal Yvonne Zamora warned students coming in from the cold to keep their heads covered and bundle up even as she walked outside with only an olive green blazer to keep her warm.

Her substitute assistant principal (the permanent assistant principal is out sick) already was outside waving to children as parents dropped them off for the day at school. It’s a ritual every school day because the majority of children at the school are dropped off by their parents.

20141121 MCISD Principal-for-a-Day 0783Zamora and her staff helped open car doors, checked out school projects and pointed students indoors before the 7:45 bell rang.

“We’re out here rain or shine,” Zamora said. “Who else is going to greet all the students?”

Each year, community and business leaders are invited to shadow principals as part of Mission Consolidated Independent School District’s Principal for a Day initiative. At one time MCISD Spokesman Craig Verley said, it used to last all day, but now participants shadow principals through the noon hour, and then are treated to lunch by the district’s cafeteria workers.

This year, Verley said he was pleased South Texas College President Shirley Reed was able to participate. She was assigned to Mission High School. At the luncheon, Reed said her tour of the campus started with the football field, after which she said, “Your academic programs better be as good as this football field.”

She said she was impressed with Mission High School Principal Edilberto Flores.

“I get the impression he’s kind of a problem solver,” Reed said at the luncheon. “If you ever get bored over in Mission, you know where my office is,” she told him.

Others who participated in Principal for a Day were State Rep. Sergio Muñoz; Mission council members Jessica Ortega-Ochoa, Armando O’Caña and Ruben Plata; MCISD board members Minnie Rodgers, Patricia O’Caña-Olivarez, Patty Bazaldua, Roy Vela and Petra Ramirez; and Alton council member Emilio Cantu.

A day in the life

Soon after the day began at Mims Elementary, two students greeted their classmates and gave them the day’s lunch menu (crunchy beef tacos) as well as a reminder of the upcoming field trip (to the University of Texas-Pan America).

Afterward, Zamora returned to her office, greeting students by name, and talking to parents along the way. The day before, 49.5 (Pre-K students count as a half) of the school’s 600 students were out sick with bronchitis or the flu, and it seems every time Zamora walks past the main office, another parent is there to pick up a student with a fever.

Checking her email for the first time that day, Zamora found no major issues and noted “Nobody’s on their computers yet.” She pointed to an email about the school’s most recent UIL event in which Mims came in second. They missed first place by 15 points, and Zamora, who admitted she’s competitive, said they’ll have to work harder.

Then, she grabbed a notebook and headed out to the first-grade hall to conduct classroom walk-throughs. Principals must visit 15 classrooms a week, checking to ensure students are engaged and learning.

Zamora said she’s watching to make sure students are responding to teachers and teachers are moving around, not stuck lecturing behind a desk. She squealed in delight as she peered into one classroom and found the students using the school’s new Chromebooks.

At about 9 a.m., Zamora sat in on a Professional Learning Community meeting. Every week, teachers at each grade level meet with the campus’ strategists to discuss ways to better educate students. This one is for kindergarten. During the meeting, teachers are shown ways to introduce their students to upper level concepts, so they’ll be familiar with it by the time they get to higher grade levels.

In between dropping off paperwork for students, replying for email and signing up for a student-teacher, Zamora missed the first-grade PLC meeting, but she makes it to second-grade, where they stress the need for open-ended questions, though multiple choice ones are easier to grade.

And by 11 a.m., Zamora’s on lunch duty, using a microphone to call out students who break rules, and picking up apples for little ones who can’t juggle all of their lunch components.

She rarely, if ever, stopped moving.

Verley said when the idea of Principal for a Day was first introduced, principals were hesitant, and asked what they would do if there’s an emergency.

“My response was, ‘Let it happen,’” Verley said. “Participants are more than likely going to be impressed with all the work that gets done.”

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