Principal for the Day (And a Little Risk Management)


I was invited to take part in the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Principal Experience in October. I was paired with M3’s neighborhood elementary school, Franklin Elementary. I was already familiar with the school and its awesome principal, Sylla Zarov, through the Foundation for Madison Public School’s Adopt-A-School Program. Franklin is M3’s adopted school.

I am thankful that being “principal for a day” was only a little over a half-day. I was exhausted by the end of five and half hours. During that time, I got to spend time with a principal, who was not only a principal, but a social worker, lunch room attendant, custodian, teacher, risk manager, and most of all, a friend to all of the students (K4-second grade) that attend Franklin.

My intent was to write this article from the perspective of the principal, as a risk manager. Although I will incorporate risk management, I want to use this article to give kudos to Sylla, and all dedicated and hardworking principals. Below is the story of my day.

I arrived at Franklin at 7:00 a.m., and had the privilege of parking in the space reserved for the principal. Immediately upon my arrival, the first big decision of the day had to be made. It was beginning to rain and we needed to decide whether students would be escorted to the playground, or gym as they arrive. From a risk management perspective this decision is important for several reasons. For student health and safety, it’s much better to have the children gather in the gym, if the weather does not allow them to be on the playground. However, playground time allows a group of four through seven year old children to work off excess energy before they go into a classroom.

At 7:00 a.m. it was raining hard, and the radar indicated it would not be quitting anytime soon, so we set up the gym for student arrival at 7:45 a.m. Guess what? By 7:20 a.m. it stopped raining, and the radar showed the rain was dissipating. We took down the set-up in the gym, and prepared for students to be escorted to the playground upon arrival. As the busses and students arrived Sylla greeted each of the students by name and welcomed them to school for the day.

Our next task was to make sure those children who got breakfast at school were eating and getting ready for the day. Next, we walked the halls to make sure everyone had made it to class. This is no easy task at Franklin. It is an old, multi-story school with maze-like hallways.

This was followed by a second meeting planning for an “intruder in the building” drill the next day. It’s a tough thing to plan for, especially in a building housing four through seven year old children. The safety team reviewed the plan for handling an intruder, made some improvements and readied for the drill on the following day.
This was followed by me walking the hall with another teacher as Sylla, her special education lead, and a social worker met to discuss a student issue.

Our next major task was dealing with a student with a behavior issue. This issue was more serious than some of the other issues we had dealt with during the day. Franklin staff had an amazing plan and solution for dealing with a student, who sometimes had too much energy to deal effectively with studies or others.

Our day ended monitoring recess and lunch for all of the grades. Sylla told me she likes to be with the children on the playground. It helps her to get to know them better, and allows her to see how they interact with each other. It also helps her find out if there are any students who might need extra care or attention that day. Recess duty included interacting with students, teachers, and parent volunteers that had come to help monitor the children at recess, and in the lunch room. During this nearly 90 minute period, I saw Sylla quietly discuss with children how to behave, comfort sad children, help out in the lunchroom when needed, and thank the adult volunteers.

My part of the day ended with the following scene: A kindergarten student had been accidentally pushed down on the playground and was feeling very sad. On his way back into the school, he coaxed a lady bug to walk on his finger. As we entered the school, the ladybug flew away and the student began to sob that he had no friends. Sylla explained to him that everyone at Franklin was his friend and got several other children to help comfort him.

My take away from the day is that the principal truly is the risk manager of the school. Sylla’s day was spent primarily concerned about the safety, and welfare of the children of Franklin, and the rest of the Franklin community of teachers, parents and visitors. However, along the way she also truly was a principal, a social worker, a lunch room attendant, a custodian, a teacher, and most of all, a friend to all of the K4 through second graders that attend Franklin.


This article was authored by Marty Malloy, Account Executive and Director of Education & Government Practice at M3. It was originally published in the December 2016 issue of WASBO’s ‘Taking Care of Business‘.

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