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Local News

Vanisko: Being principal for a day

Joliet Herald-News Steve Vanisko on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Joliet, Ill.
Joliet Herald-News Steve Vanisko on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Joliet, Ill.

My typical workday usually starts with my being in the office or in some type of meeting.

That’s only part of what made last Friday so unique and enjoyable.

The day began with a 7:15 a.m. meet-and-greet with the staff at Dirksen Junior High as a part of the annual District 86 Principal For A Day Program.

I actually spent about a half day in my new role, but that’s not really the point. It was plenty of time to get feel for what goes on.

Dirksen has a new principal this year, Mrs. Markisha Mitchell. She left the corporate world for a career in education. She also had an agenda for the morning that made sure things went smoothly. In fact, I was treated like royalty, which in all honesty is not something that we media folks are used to these days.

After an introduction to the entire eighth-grade class, there was a student council-led building tour. The kids did a great job of pointing out all the different aspects of the school’s physical structure, which has a definite 1970s feel to it like others in Joliet that were built around that time.

Unlike shag carpeting, buildings can’t really be changed that much unless there’s a massive capital investment, so you manage the resource you are provided. One of the kids commented, “You can’t get lost in here because everything is in a circle.”  She sure was right about that.

Next, we sat in on a team meeting where teachers work on various planning initiatives for students. The focus was a tutoring program where teachers were collaborating to determine which students in their class should be included.  

I sit in a lot of meetings with my regular job, so interaction is something I am quite familiar with. This team worked well together and clearly had students’ best interests in mind.

Mrs. Mitchell had classroom visits next on the agenda. The teachers were kind enough to pause their projects and allow me speak to the kids. However, in one class, three kids presented projects in front of the class, Mrs. Mitchell and myself. Nothing like a little added pressure.

During my presentation, I showed the kids our print newspaper – about 10 percent said it came to their house and only the adults used it. I then pulled out my iPhone and every kid said they had one.

I then explained that everything in the paper is now on the phone or any computer, but 30 years ago virtually the only way to get information was to get the print paper. Point is, business changes.

We also discussed how businesses need to find creative ways to make money, so we do different things now than we did 30 years ago. That is why we do events like our Readers Choice Contest where our readers vote for their favorite businesses in over 60 categories.

Then I gave the kids three categories from our contest: pizza, ice cream and doughnuts. We did a contest of our own based on the actual Readers Choice results and I gave a $10 gift card to four lucky winners. The sixth- and seventh-graders seemed to like it. The eighth-graders, well, they are at that age, so not so much.

We wrapped up with a sixth-grade lunch visit and our timing was impeccable. Each week the school tracks attendance for each grade and the class with the highest percentage gets an additional open gym period the following Friday.

Turns out on this week, the sixth-grade class was the winner. That was a pretty cool scene when they put the numbers up seeing how the kids reacted.  

Actually, the entire morning was pretty cool. It was time well spent.

• Steve Vanisko is the general manager of The Herald-News. He can be reached at

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