Switcheroo: Hancock Co. superintendent, middle school principal agree to one day "transfer," spend the time shadowing students, who return the learning experience

Hancock Clarion, Hawesville, May 4, 2017

Superintendent, 8th grader, switch places for a day

By Dave Taylor

Tuesday morning a new eighth grader walked the halls of Hancock County Middle School, garnering stares and dramatic double takes as kids tried to figure out who the tall new guy was in the basketball shorts and Charles Barkley t-shirt.

It was Kyle Estes, who had transferred to the school from just down the road, at the central office, where he’s normally the superintendent.

Estes was acting as a student for the day as part of the middle school’s recent project where students were elected to switch roles with the superintendent and principal for the day.

Megan LaClair was elected superintendent for the day and Jonathan Watkins was voted principal for the day in a school-wide election the week before spring break.

Megan, 13, said she was nominated for the position by her classmates in Josh Roberts’ social studies class.

“He made everyone write someone’s name down that they thought had integrity, and so in my classroom I was the most picked answer first, so I was the superintendent possibility,” she said.

Second was Jonathan, and the two teamed up to form a ticket, which meant they had to come up with a couple of issues as their platform.

First, she said, was “to have our pep rallies be better because they were really bad.”

“We went to the high school to see one of their pep rallies and they had like these scavenger hunt things and you got points for each thing that you won and at the end of the year whoever got the most points got a free day,” she said.

“We think if we did something like that and had mini games and whoever wins it would make people more involved in it.”

“We also wanted to have like an exercise class period, so we could just be active and not have to do schoolwork,” she said about their second issue.

“It’s more for like stress relief,” she said. “We wouldn’t do just like sports and stuff. All you have to do is be moving and just not thinking about classwork.”

They won the vote, and Jonathan served as principal, shadowing Diane Hatchett, and Megan followed Estes.

Her day as superintendent was “pretty fun actually,” Megan said as she worked in the superintendent’s office Friday.

She met everyone at the board office and learned about their jobs, but whether she was looking for redundancies and ways to cut costs is anybody’s guess.

Estes took Megan around to the schools, where she got to spend a minute on something self-serving.

“I went into my brother’s classroom as well,” she said. “I embarrassed him by hugging him.”

Back at the of fice they discussed the school’s finances and how each day is run.

Megan was learning the ins and outs of how a school system runs, and was finding some parts of it surprising.

“How much money they spend in a year. That was probably the biggest (surprise),” she said.

Estes and Megan talked about how Megan wants to become a math teacher, just like Estes had once been, and how they both played basketball. They had a lot in common.

Then on Tuesday they had a whole lot more in common as Estes shadowed Megan as she went to each of her classes, with him being treated as a normal student.

He dressed the part too, with his 90s-era Barkley shirt that he got just for the occasion.

“My wife Jessica found that for me,” he said. “She thought it was fitting.”

He fit in, or as much as a tall, greying man can in an eighth grade classroom.

“I did tell someone that I felt like I was getting a few stares and I just chalked that up to being the new student,” he said.

Teachers were told that he would simply be a student that day and to treat him like one, which meant he had to do the classwork.

The hardest part?

“Writing a poem,” he said, without having to think long.

“That’s not my strongest area, but I did give it my best shot,” he said.

The class was given several options for subjects and he decided to do one on being a student.

“We had options and that was the one I chose. I probably didn’t do a very good job,” he said.

Thankfully he didn’t have to read it for the class, he said, although he wonders if that might have been coming later.

“I’m sure they probably had to at a later date, but I’m probably not going back for that,” he said.

Going to classes, sitting in the desks and standing in line for lunch helped him better understand what the kids face each day.

“It was definitely different seeing things through the eyes of a student, through that lens, so that was a unique perspective,” he said.

He hopes that what he saw will help him improve the learning experience for everyone else who has to do that every day.

“I’m sure there will be conversations about what pieces of that experience looked like through the eyes of a student and how that could be enhanced or what could be done to improve that experience for students,” he said.

“Hopefully that’s the final outcome, is how do we make it better, which is the approach that I think we must all take when we’re looking at how to improve the educational experience.”

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