Editor Becomes Principal For a Day — and a Student of Schooling

“My dad goes to work,” the tiny kindergartener said one Wednesday after asking me if I went to work. “Do you know him?”

I hate to say this, but it was only lunchtime, and I had already been asked some tough questions by a lot of small humans, and this might have been the toughest — and the cutest.

On Oct. 27, I took part in Principal for a Day, a joint effort by the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce and Dallas ISD to give business and civic leaders an inside look at what it takes to run a public school.

I stepped into Withers Elementary and, after a quick chat with principal Wendy Miller, I got a quick tour of the school before starting our day.

Why Withers? Well, for one it’s a school where some of our readers are sending their children. But I also felt a kinship with its namesake, Harry Clay Withers, who began his journalism career in 1901 in Denton, working his way through the ranks until he retired as executive editor of the Dallas Morning News in 1959.

My day with Ms. Miller and assistant principal Miosha McCann gave me insight into what it’s like to run a school after a nearly two-year-long pandemic. My phone logged thousands of steps that day as we walked the halls, attended meetings, and checked in on classes. Hundreds of decisions on everything from what to do about missing spoons to teacher inservices were made while I was there, all with the deft assuredness of lifetime educators.

They do a lot. When they’re not doing their regular tasks, they’re substitute teaching, monitoring lunchrooms, and trying to figure out how to keep students and teachers feeling engaged during a really difficult time.

I also joined third, fourth, and fifth graders in their classrooms, talking about what to do if you get stuck while you’re writing, how to organize your thoughts, and how I knew as early as fourth grade that I wanted to be a writer.

I told them the story of Mrs. Kropinicki’s class, and how an assignment to write a short story created angst and then an avocation.

“She handed back everyone’s story but mine,” I told them. “I was scared to death. I thought I failed. I thought she was going to make me take it to my mom to sign or ask for a meeting.

“But then she did something that I thought might be worse at first — she read my story out loud to the class. What if they didn’t like it? What if they thought it was dumb? Would I get made fun of on the playground?” I said as a set of current fourth graders nodded their heads in commiseration with my past 10-year-old self. “Instead, they were paying attention. They laughed at the parts I wanted people to laugh at. And I realized something — good writing makes people feel things, and I wanted to do that as my job.”

At the end, several students asked if they could possibly write for People Newspapers, and I hope they do.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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