Superintendent learns from students during school lunches

Colin Mulvany photo

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger has lunch with second-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Arlington Elementary on Monday. Redinger’s goal is to have lunch at every school in the district by the end of the school year.

December 12, 2012 - Updated: 7:06 a.m.

Second-grader Rowan Hill wasted no time familiarizing herself with Superintendent Shelley Redinger Tuesday during a lunch at Arlington Elementary School.

The blond-haired girl climbed into a seat next to Spokane Public Schools’ top administrator and told her: “The kids in my class wanted me to ask if we could call you Dr. Red.”

Redinger replied, “That’s OK. It’s a hard name.”

The lunch was an example of the superintendent’s outreach to students, fulfilling a promise as the new superintendent to be in district schools often and visible in the community. Redinger’s goal is to have lunch with kids at every school by June; she’s halfway done.

The superintendent has also been reading to students in elementary schools and will substitute teach for six teachers in the spring.

“It gives me a way to get to know the kids,” Redinger said. Plus, “it’s amazing what the kids will tell you. I learn so much more when I’m at the schools.”

When Redinger goes, “I always eat the school’s lunch,” she said. “And I always check the date on the milk.”

The students who meet with her at each school are chosen by the principal or their classmates; sometimes it’s the students of the month or student council. At the North Side school on Tuesday, 13 kids from grades 2, 4 and 5 sat around a table, chatting as they ate.

Redinger usually asks each student group the same few questions and listens for trends, concerns and desires.

“What about your school makes it special? What would you be devastated to lose if we had to make cuts because of the budget?”

Small hands shot up in the air; more than half said they didn’t want to lose their teachers.

Fourth-grader Ashlynn Brusseau added, “If we had to lose art, that would be sad.” Logan Wilson, a fifth-grader, was concerned about losing balls for activities, such as soccer.

“What would make your school better?” Redinger asked.

Brusseau said, “If on the playground we had a swing set.”

Swings are a hot topic among elementary school students, Redinger said. But she explained many school districts have phased out swing sets nationwide because of injuries, such as broken arms and legs.

After the school questions, Redinger moved on to trivia: “What is the capital of Washington?”

“W,” said second-grader Kayden Langsston.

With a broad smile, Redinger said: “That’s not right, but that’s pretty clever.”

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