Community leaders make the grade as Principals for a Day at Aiken County schools
By 9 a.m. Friday, Lessie Price knew her time as a Principal for a Day at Millbrook Elementary would be much different than her job as the manager for governmental affairs and community relations for AECOM.
Price usually knows her schedule for the day but learned quickly that Millbrook Principal John Metts’ plans can change from minute to minute as he interacts with students, parents and teachers.
“I was here at 7:10, and things have been moving,” said Price, who also is a member of Aiken City Council. “Nothing has stopped.”
Price is one of about 40 community and business leaders who volunteered to shadow Aiken County Public Schools’ elementary, middle and high school principals across the county from Ridge Spring-Monetta to North Augusta.
By 9:30 a.m., Price had greeted students in the car and bus lines, sat in on a teacher evaluation and engaged with teachers and students, helping them with reading skills and learning about a habitat classroom science project.
In addition to the changing schedule, the affection the students show their teachers and principal and they for their students is another difference from the business world, Price said.
“When Principal Metts and his teachers greeted the students before school, there was a warm friendliness that get the students in the mood for the day,” she said. “The students see their smiles, and some of them want to hug them. I observed how excited the students were for their teachers because of the exchange of love and affection and compassion that they bring to the classroom.”
Metts, whose goal is to know the name of every student at Millbrook, said education is about relationships among students, teachers and administrators.
The Principal for a Day program allows schools to extend and build relationships with the community through a common goal, Metts said.
“We’re all here for our children,” he said. “It’s our responsibility as a community to instill the importance of learning and how it affects students’ lives so they will become productive citizens in our county and across the state. We want to provide the best opportunity we can for these children.”
Across town, Betty Ryberg, a member of the Aiken Rotary Club, was the principal for the day at Aiken Middle School. She prepared as though she was getting ready for her first day of kindergarten, laying her clothes out the night before and eating a big, healthy breakfast.
“I was excited,” she said after having kicked her shoes off and danced with a movement class, honored veterans at a special program, observed boys in the “Invictus” class learn leadership skills and listened to musical theater students perform “My Shot” from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” – all before lunch, she added.
“When I was asked, I jumped,” Ryberg continued. “I answered as fast as I could. I love this age group, and I support Aiken County Public Schools.”
Ryberg said she felt the positive energy and connection immediately among students, teachers and administrators at Aiken Middle, having seen Principal Scott Floyd fist-bumping students to welcome them to school in the morning and Floyd and his teachers calling students by name in the hallways.
“I thought what a great circle of support. The students feel it in the teachers, and the teachers are excited about the kids. It’s a neighborhood. This is special. People should be so happy they’re a Gator,” Ryberg said, referring to the school’s mascot and the school’s nickname, The Swamp.
Floyd said Ryberg definitely has what it takes to be a middle school administrator.
“You have to have a lot of energy, and Mrs. Ryberg has it,” he said. “I’ve been having trouble keeping up with her.”
Floyd said middle school principals and teachers need personalities that reach out to students, who sometimes can be timid.
“Mrs. Ryberg is a perfect person for that because she will go up and open up to anybody, and they feel her warmth immediately,” he said. “It’s so important for her to be here today. I’d love for her to come back anytime, and she already has her official name tag.”
Ryberg said parents want their children to be in a safe environment, but they also want them to be emotionally safe.
“It’s nice that it’s so emotionally safe here,” she said. “That’s a big thing. We all want them to learn, but we also want them to grow. And I think they’re growing.”