Principal for the day

8-year-old takes on school official’s tasks
by Martha Quetsch
ELBURN—Second-grader Ben Durbala, 8, was in charge at John Stewart Elementary School in Elburn on Friday, serving as Principal for the Day. He was excited about the unique opportunity, which he won in a silent auction at a PTO fundraiser.

“I’ve never been a principal before, of course, because I’m just a kid, and I wanted to find out what it would be like,” Ben said.

The reason he was interested in being Principal for a Day is because he wants to follow in the footsteps of his dad, who is a school principal in Downers Grove.

“I want to be one when I grow up,” Ben said.

Ben took his role on Friday very seriously, and was enthusiastic about everything he did, said John Stewart principal Brian Graber.

Ben prepared for the day beforehand and was ready to go when he got to school that morning, Graber said. Ben’s first task was to read the morning announcements on the school intercom.

Graber always starts the announcements with, “Today is a splendid day to be at John Stewart” or “Today is a terrific day to be at John Stewart.” In preparing the day before, Ben came up with another descriptive word. He announced to his fellow students over the intercom, “This is principal Ben Durbala. Today is an exceptional day to be at John Stewart.”

Ben wore a lavalier tag during the day identifying him as the school principal. He did five classroom walk-throughs with Graber, part of the principal’s daily routine. Ben chose which teachers’ classes to visit, and then offered feedback to them on what he saw, mostly “Great job” and “excellent,” he said.

Ben also was able to send comments to the teachers about changes he would like to see at the school, using Principal Graber’s official e-mail address. After complimenting his teacher, Mrs. Hensley, and the other teachers for working hard to make school exciting and full of learning, he suggested that the school have physical education every day and eliminate the rule against having candy in class.

He closed the e-mail by saying he hoped they all had a nice Mother’s Day.

A lunch with Principal Graber had to be postponed because he had an unexpected school matter that needed his attention and had to leave the building for awhile. But the two will reschedule the lunch for a later date.

Graber said serving as principal on Friday offered Ben a window into what the job entails.

“Before, he saw pieces of it, but on Friday, he could get a better idea of what it is about, including having to roll with things and be flexible,” Graber said.

Ben said nothing about his day changed his mind about wanting to be a principal someday.

“I liked doing pretty much everything,” he said.

Photo: Ben Drabala, a second-grader at John Stewart Elementary School, occupied the principal’s chair on Friday, when he was Principal for the Day. While on duty, he sent e-mail comments from the principal’s office to the school’s teachers, visited several classrooms and read the morning announcements over the intercom. Photo by Martha Quetsch