MARCO ISLAND — Tommie Barfield Elementary got a new principal this week – briefly. Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala served as “principal for a day” Tuesday morning, but actual TBE principal Dr. Jory Westberry not only didn’t have to worry about job security, she didn’t even get the day off.
The principal “job” amounted to an orientation for Fiala, a chance to see behind the classroom door and get a quick, intensive immersion in the multitude of activities that go on inside an elementary school.
Westberry escorted Fiala around the school, from the media center – yes, that’s the library – where planning was underway for the upcoming Authors’ and Artists’ Night, with the help of media specialist Debra Houghtaling, to kindergarten and second grade classrooms, and a music class, where music teacher Lisa Braren was rehearsing an already polished group of third grade performers for an upcoming end-of-year recital.
“It’s a show about making learning fun, so we have to keep smiling,” Braren instructed the students. Westberry took the opportunity to point out to Fiala the broadcasting apparatus for the school’s low-power radio station, where students record announcements that can be heard at 93.3 on the FM dial.
“It goes out about two blocks,” she said. “Parents in car line can get a new message every week. We had things about the FCAT – how do you prepare for it. The kids help, and it’s really fun.”
Fiala admired the rows of musical keyboards with headsets attached, where students can practice, and was suitably impressed by hearing that the school boasts both “regular drums and steel drums,” although she didn’t request a demonstration.
The tour stopped by the office of Gerardo Guzman, who, said Westberry, “keeps everything running around here.” He demonstrated the electric-powered tricycle he uses to run around the school himself, calling it his best tool. Westberry confessed she sometimes borrows it to zip around the halls, and gave a quick demo of her riding skills.
The tour finished up at the school cafeteria, just in time for lunch. Entrees offered on Tuesday included pizza, Dr. Westberry’s choice, and chicken fingers, the selection of Commissioner Fiala. Fiala also tried the miniature corn dogs, pronouncing them excellent, but passed on a cup of salad – “too healthy,” she said. Conversation at lunch featured a discussion of the recently revealed FCAT results.
The two stopped to talk to teacher Edward Laudise’s fifth grade class, where the teacher and students were having lunch together, and Fiala was surprised to find out that, as part of their government studies, they had been studying… her.
Laudise held an impromptu quiz, and hands shot up all around the table as he asked the students what commission district Fiala represents – number one, including Marco Island, what year she ran unopposed, the duration of commission terms, and even where her granddaughter teaches school – East Naples Middle School. It brought to mind the television show “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” and a likely negative answer.
“What a great opportunity to see the inside workings of a school. I am so impressed with what these kids are learning,” said Fiala. She was amazed when kindergarten student Brandon Ruiz, stopped at random in the hallway by his principal(s), read aloud to them from a book he was carrying.
Westberry praised Fiala’s intellectual curiosity.
“She’s a really dynamic person. I’m learning from her, even while I’m showing her the school,” said Westberry. After Fiala’s brief internship, she went back to the world of county governance, Westberry went back to running her school, and both felt richer for the experience.