The hashtag is everything.
Isabelle Risha had already managed to summarize her experience running La Cañada Elementary School for a day in the Twitter-imposed 140-or-less character count: “4th grade Isabelle takes command and becomes principal for the day at L.C.E.” preceded a link to a longer blog post about her short but productive reign.
But how to sum up the experience in one appropriately catchy, smart phrase?
She pondered this most consequential of questions as Emily Blaney, LCE’s regular principal, waited patiently.
“Oh!” Risha exclaimed at last as she started pecking at the keyboard — her keyboard for the day, at her desk, in her principal’s office.
This girl certainly did.
From the start of school April 19 to just about to the final bell, “Miss Risha,” as she introduced herself to one attentive class of kindergartners, handled the duties usually charged to Blaney.
Miss Risha’s experience was an example of the semi-regular “Principal for a Day” tradition at La Cañada Unified School District elementary schools. The creative and fun fundraiser — in this case, earned via a bid at the recent La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation’s auction — offers students an experience of a lifetime: shadowing their principal. Risha was LCE’s second guest principal this school year, following 5th-grader Michael Kwan.
“We bid, as we have many times before, and this was the first time we actually won the bid,” said mom Elizabeth Risha, for whom Isabelle is the youngest of four daughters. “We just knew she would like it; she’s very bright and outgoing, and she’d expressed interest in becoming a teacher someday. So we thought it might be a good day to explore it.”
Young Miss Risha dressed the part, in a gray blazer and skirt. An official badge and clipboard completed the outfit.
And she wasted no time getting to work, opening doors as students pulled up to the curb in the car line. She donned the fluorescent pinnie while monitoring recess — handing out “Way to Be” slips to those students who struck her as showing especially safe, respectful and responsible behavior. She had a grownup discussion with Blaney about the high cost of shade structures on an elementary school playground.
She also delivered those vaunted Pride Points — bright yellow slips that add up to incentives such as a pizza party or a few extra minutes at recess — to the classes she thought really earned them. That included her own 4th-grade classroom, where her teacher, Dale Freyberger, got only glimpses of a busy Miss Risha that day, such as when she returned for a few minutes before lunch while Blaney diverted her attention to deal with a disciplinary matter.
Andrea Redecker’s 6th-grade class also received Pride Points, but only because “my sister is in this class,” Miss Risha explained, before stipulating that Alison Risha now owed her not one but two favors at home. (This seemed to be the only action that might have constituted a borderline abuse of power.)
Miss Risha did Blaney a favor by tackling a stack of office work, including updating the staff meeting agenda as well as the school’s website, on which she posted a report that she wrote about her day. That report read, in part: “This experience allowed me to view the school from [a] different perspective. By teaching other kids a lesson, I taught myself a lesson, and made myself a better person.”
She delivered those lessons in the form of impromptu, powerful lectures. In one class after another, Miss Risha, a La Cañada Junior Theater veteran, confidently strode to the front of the room to deliver heartfelt advice to younger students looking up to her as a role model and older students hearing her as a peer.
Each address was different, but with Blaney watching from the wing, they all centered on the same theme: the benefits of being good.
“When you’re good all the time, you get a lot of opportunities when you’re older,” Miss Risha told the kindergartners kneeling quietly on a carpet in Wendi Damico’s class. “Like, your teacher will really like you and you’ll get good grades. But if you’re bad, a lot of bad things happen and you get in trouble, and you don’t like getting in trouble.
“And maybe, one day when you’re older, you’ll get to do something like this and you’ll get to also teach other kids about being good.”
Yoona Lee told Miss Risha that her message resonated with her 2nd-graders: “After you left, these children, they all wanted to be like you and they all wanted to behave really, really well!”
“That makes me feel good,” said Miss Risha, grinning widely. “Something I did made them want to change themselves.”
Blaney found inspiration in video remarks recorded by her understudy. “I really like to see how the school functions with an outside perspective,” Miss Risha said. “Because usually I’m in class and I only know what goes on in my class and nothing else that is happening at the school. So today I got to find out what really happens, and it was really fun.”
“You know,” Blaney wondered later, “like she said in her video, it would be really nice if teachers had an opportunity to get out and see more. I mean, there’s no reason we couldn’t. It would just be a matter of me going into somebody’s class and teaching a math class while they go around and look at other classrooms.”
The two principals got to know each other better throughout the day, too, discussing leadership, introverts and extroverts, and what life is like with lots of sisters — Blaney has six, plus three brothers.
“I thought I’d do less,” Miss Risha said after she’d tweeted, peddled Pride Points and was about to take her regular seat at her regular desk. “I thought I’d just be sitting in the office the whole time; I never thought I’d get to go around and talk to everybody.
“It was really fun,” she added, “but I kind of felt bad taking Ms. Blaney’s seat.”
The hashtag is everything.