By Curt Yeomans
Students in Juerita Caruthers' fourth-grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School write letters to Clayton County's superintendent every year to ask questions about what the job entails.
In the past, the superintendent wrote the students back and answered their questions. The letters are actually part of the Georgia Performance Standards, which mandate that fourth-graders have to learn how to write a business letter.
Since the letters are part of the curriculum, and leading the school system can take up a lot of a person's time, the students simply expected to get letters again this year.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Gloria Duncan had other ideas, though.
She showed up on March 7, and answered the questions in person.
"They were so nice to write me these letters," Duncan said. "I wanted to come see them, so I could answer their questions and thank them in person."
Duncan's visit also coincided with the National Education Association's (NEA) Read Across America week, which concluded on March 7. More than 100 officials from across Clayton County went to elementary schools on the final day of the annual literacy celebration, so they could read to fourth-graders.
This year marked the 11th anniversary of the NEA's first Read Across America Day. The week-long celebration commemorates the birthday of "Dr. Seuss," Theodor Seuss Giesel, who was born on March 2, 1904. In honor of the event, NEA uses the title character from Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" to promote Read Across America Week.
Duncan read Doreen Cronin's "Duck for President" to the fourth-graders at Hawthorne Elementary School. The book is about a duck who lives on a farm. He thinks there should be a democratic process implemented to determine who would run the farm: Duck, or the farmer.
Duck won an election by a wide margin, but found his days were filled with lots of coffee, making sure the farm ran smoothly, and speaking at town hall meetings so he could stay in touch with the community.
"That sounds like a typical day for me," Duncan joked with the students as she sat in a rocking chair.
Duck decided running the farm was too much work, though, and decided to run for governor because he thought that job would be easier. He found the work involved with running a state was harder than the job of running a farm. Duck then decided to run for president because he thought that job would be easier.
Once he was in the White House, though, Duck found it was too much work for him. He quit the presidency to return to the farm he came from, and he once again worked for the farmer.
"No matter how high up you go, the job is still what?" Duncan asked the students.
"Hard work!" they replied.
Duncan told the students she was glad to be in a classroom setting instead of an office at the district's Central Administration Complex, because it gave her an opportunity to feel young again.
"The most difficult part of my job is not being around children," Duncan told the students. "When I am around students, I get to learn what's popular with young people, and what isn't. I also get to learn the latest phrases that are popular with you guys."
While Duncan chose Juerita Caruthers' class for her Read Across America visit because of the letters she received from the class, there was another incentive to visit the class - Caruthers was a student at North Clayton Middle School when Duncan was an assistant principal at that school.
"She was such a good student and look how she turned out," Duncan told the students as she encouraged them to work hard in school.
Caruthers said Duncan's visit was a blast from the past - of sorts - for the fourth-grade teacher, but added the real treat was letting the kids meet Duncan for the first time.
"When a superintendent takes time out of his or her day to visit the children, it's always remarkable," Caruthers said. "The students really don't get to meet the superintendent of their school system very often," she added.
The students found out on March 4 about Duncan's impending visit, but the amazement hadn't worn off when the school system's top administrator walked in the classroom door three days later.
"I was just shocked because I've never had a superintendent come to one of my schools before," said Amber Patterson, 10.
"I was just thinking she'd read our letters, and be happy we sent them to her," said Michael Marcelle, 10. "I found out she's a nice lady who likes children."