District 153’s superintendent becomes ‘Undercover Boss’ to mingle with staff

The lunchroom at Willow School was crowded, but no one seemed to notice the tall guy in line with second graders.  
  Superintendent Dale Mitchell
  reads along looking over the
  shoulder of second graders
  as they start reading a new
  book in the Magic Treehouse


He followed along to the table, swung his legs over the bench and sat at the table chatting with a row of little girls, comparing his lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and banana with theirs.

“You guys get a lot done in a short amount of time,” he told the girls as they rattled off the list of things they did that morning, including spelling, studying nouns and adjectives, a computer class and indoor recess — all before lunch at 10:55 a.m.

After 20 minutes, lunch was over and the guest and kids all went back to teacher Patti Boehm’s classroom for a silent reading period followed by a reading class, math lessons and a monthly visit with a social worker who reinforced the values of kindness and friendship.
It was a full day for District 153 Superintendent Dale Mitchell, who conducted another of his “Undercover Boss” days. While he’s not really hiding from district workers, he is visiting with employees to learn what it takes to do their jobs.

Mitchell said “it takes a lot of energy” to be with second graders. He got to Willow School about 7:30 a.m. and helped Boehm set up her classroom before children arrived for the 8 a.m. start of the day.


He was introduced as the “Extra-Extra Special Person” for the week. The honor helped the second graders learn something about their guest. The title is a weekly honor normally bestowed on a student in the class.

  Superintendent Dale Mitchell,
  in the left-hand corner,
  observes teacher Patti Boehm's
  reading class.



He decided to try the “Undercover Boss” approach after reading about the idea in a school administrator’s magazine.


Mitchell has been the superintendent for 16 years. He joined the District 153 staff as an assistant principal at James Hart, and then took the principal’s job before moving into the district’s top spot. His schedule running the operation doesn’t give him much time to leave his desk to learn all the functions within the district’s three buildings.


“It’s gratifying to see how the staff work together,” he said noting how all the moving parts are synchronized to keep everything on schedule.


Since the start of 2018-19 school year, Mitchell’s been making the “Undercover Boss” rounds. When he was a school secretary at Willow it was the day of the Halloween parade, so he came to work in a costume. He’s been a janitor at James Hart School and a physical education teacher at Churchill School.  He’s got plans to be a computer teacher, a cafeteria assistant and a teacher in living skills classes over the next few months.


After his visits, he writes a short report and posts it with photos for all the staff to see. 


“It’s been a fun experience,” Mitchell said. “I’m glad I’m doing this. It’s a great way to spend time with the staff and thank them for all they do.”


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