In my life as student and as parent, I’ve been blessed to know a number of outstanding public school principals. Among this elite group, is Oakley Elementary School’s former principal Linda Allison. What I loved most about Linda Allison was that she never put process ahead of pupil. Her compassion for students was matched only by her commitment to their success. Seriously, Ms. Allison should train new principals. She is that good.
When I learned that she was retiring (after I dried my tears), I wrote a story in her honor and later read it at her final faculty meeting. That was more than a decade ago, but despite the passage of years, I remain so grateful to Ms. Allison for her leadership, dedication, and just her natural intuition as an educator.
Once upon a time
Once upon a time there was a little red hen who lived on a teaching farm that existed solely to train young farmers. The chickens on the farm, all one big family, got together and chose the little red hen as the principal of the farm. The little red hen was honored. She found great joy in sharing her life and work with her many brothers and sisters. Together they kept the farm running smoothly.
Unfortunately, the little red hen also had to work with three other animals who thought they owned the whole farm: a turtle named Wright Procedure who moved very slowly; a parrot named Polly Tisshun, who maintained a spotless image, talked a lot, but did very little, and an elephant named Feddy Govment who thought he knew everything, even though he didn’t even live on the same farm as the little red hen.
A new student
One day, the little red hen came upon a child and his parents.
“We want our child to have the best education, the best learning environment, and the best playmates the world can offer,” the parents instructed as they hugged the child and got back in their car, “We can’t stand around talking about it though, we have jobs, you know!” The parents drove away, leaving the child with the little red hen.
“Oh my, aren’t you a fine young fellow!” clucked the little red hen as she pulled the tyke under her wing. “Welcome to our farm!”
About that time a few of her brothers and sisters came down the path and she introduced them to the child. “Let’s get busy and teach this child how to feed the animals!” She smiled at the spark in the child’s eyes and in the eyes of the teachers.
But before the other chickens could even respond, Wright Procedure, the turtle who moved very slowly, poked his head out of his shell and said, “Stop everything! Don’t do anything until we get these forms filled out. We’ll need permission from the parents and clearance from the pediatrician. Plus, we’ll need a waiver signed by each of the animals the child will be feeding. Also. . .”
While Wright the turtle droned on, several of the little red hen’s sisters took the child down to the barn and started the lessons. The little red hen, back in the farm office, filled out the necessary paperwork. She called the pediatrician who put her on hold: “Important, urgent issues demand the doctor’s attention!” Once the little red hen had completed the child’s file she went to check on the child’s progress.
“WOW!” she said to her siblings “You have done a great job teaching the child how to feed the animals. I believe we can promote the child to animal grooming.”
“Well, I certainly agree,” cooed Polly Tisshun, the talkative parrot with the spotless image. She smiled to the camera operator who had come along with her. Wouldn’t you agree, Little Red Hen that my program Accelerated Feeders has, well, haha, accelerated this child’s progress?” The camera clicked more pictures as Polly fluttered over and perched herself on the child’s shoulder.
“Well, Polly, I’d be happy to talk to you about that,” said the little red hen, as she motioned Polly off of the child and toward her office. The other chickens stepped in and hurried the child onto the next lesson.
But before the little red hen could leave with Polly, Feddy Govment the elephant who thought he knew everything, lumbered down to the barn. “Has the child mastered animal bathing yet?” he asked, his ears flopping.
“Well, no,” said the little red hen, about to explain that the other chickens were just beginning that phase of the training.
“What’s wrong with those teachers?” Feddy stomped his feet upsetting the animals and causing the teachers to cease training long enough to settle the animals. The child observed, learning, in the process, how to calm animals in the event of a disturbance.
“And anyway,” Feddy shouted, “Look at that kid! He’s not DOING anything! And the teachers are just running around like chick. . .well, like chickens do sometimes.” Feddy looked around, waving his trunk from side to side and looking everywhere except at the little red hen.
The little red hen started to explain. “The child has made remarkable prog. . .”
“Then give him the Animal Grooming Test!” thundered Feddy.
“I have one right here,” said Wright Procedure, the turtle who though he moved very slowly, always managed to find his way into the middle of any activity.
The child did not pass the test and so he had to take the actual course material. The teachers received official reprimands for their negligence and the farm was placed on probation until the child passed the test.
In the midst of the crisis, the little red hen was called away to meet with Wright Procedure the turtle, Polly Tisshun the Parrot, and Feddy Govment the elephant. A committee was formed to study effective teaching of animal grooming and the three friends recommended strategies for school reform that might, in time, bring the farm up to par. Their first recommendation: they would visit the barn immediately following the meeting. As the meeting ended, the little red hen’s cell phone rang.
A not-so-unexpected visit
“The child’s parents are here,” said the chicken on the line. We need you back here at once.”
The little red hen arrived at the barn before Wright, Polly, and Feddy did. (They had, as it turns out, been left behind.) The parents appeared worried, tired, and confused. They had seen the news and gotten the test results for the school.
“Welcome,” The little red hen said to the mom and dad, genuinely happy they’d come. She listened to their concerns, made notes for herself, and responded to their comments. They left, after a quick tour of the barn, saying they felt much better.
Time passed and in what seemed like a moment, the child had completed the requirements for Elementary Barn and it was time for him to move on. The little red hen, gathered friends and family and asked, “Who will help me celebrate this child?”
Pomp without all the circumstance
“I will!” said Wright Procedure, sticking his head out of his shell. He began designing a flow chart so that he could celebrate properly.
“I will!” said Polly Tisshun, wearing her red plume that she saved just for such occasions. “My camera crew is all set up to capture the moment.”
“I will!” said Feddy as he galumphed through the door and tried to take over the room.
“OH NO YOU WILL NOT!” Said the little red hen fluffing herself up to her full height and glaring at Wright, Polly, and Feddy. The little red hen extended her wing and gestured at the teachers who stood between the child and the three intruders.
“We will celebrate this child. We prepared this child. We taught this child We love this child. My brothers and sisters and I will celebrate this child.”
And they did. While Wright Procedure, Polly Tisshun, and Feddy Government looked on, completely befuddled.