SCHENECTADY — Clad in shirt, tie, dress pants and shoes, Mont Pleasant Middle School 8th grader Alex Ally dropped into a social studies class Monday morning.
With Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring at his side, 13-year-old Alex quietly observed the room for barely two minutes before he and Spring stepped out as quietly as they had arrived.
“So what did you see?” Spring asked Alex as they moved back into the hallway.
“They were working, not talking; it was a nice environment with music playing; the teacher was helping students with essays,” Alex said. “It looked like people were on task, doing what they should be doing.”
Spring agreed and the pair continued down through the halls of Mont Pleasant where, for a day, Ally carried the badge and title of superintendent. As they walked the halls between a pair of district leadership team meetings, Alex and Spring bumped into one of Alex’s former teachers, who was not surprised by his promotion or snazzy dress.
“Look at you, looking all fresh,” teacher Rosa Pardee said. “Look at you, the future superintendent.”
Throughout the year, Alex has been unafraid and unabashed about communicating with the district superintendent. Earlier in the year, he approached Spring about teacher turnover in his science class – the class’ first teacher left unexpectedly in the fall and the class fell behind as it was shuffled through substitute teachers and other replacements. So Alex told the district superintendent he expected more.
Alex has continued to serve as a sounding board for Spring, offering an unfiltered and, Alex said, unbiased student perspective.
“Alex will have a conversation even if he isn’t having a problem,” Spring said.
While Alex wasn’t sure if education is the right field for him, he said he was drawn to learn more about leadership and how the head of a large organization manages his day.
For Spring, classroom visits range from short, informal drop-ins to random rooms, as he makes his way through each school for twice-annual evaluations. For Alex, the visits were a glimpse inside the day-to-day work of the district’s top leader and a chance to hone his own observation skills.
Spring – and on Monday, Alex – also spends a lot of time in meetings. When he arrived for his day as superintendent, Alex was handed a folder with a printout of his schedule for the litany of meetings – the same folder that greets Spring each morning. The bulk of the morning was spent in a pair of district leadership team meetings, and the afternoon was booked solid with back-to-back job interviews with prospective assistant principals. Alongside Spring and the three middle school principals, Alex was prepared to join in on six interviews for four open positions.
“It’s a lot of meeting,” Alex said. “We just came from one, and now we have another one.”
Alex ran the meetings as Spring sat to the side. In one meeting, Alex checked off dozens of ongoing projects and newly-funded positions for status updates. During a discussion with over a dozen top administrators, Alex described how teachers he has had push off lessons when the classroom is swamped with distractions.
“At least every day, we lost one thing we were supposed to do: writing or math or science,” Alex told the group of district administrators.
He also described how teachers cajole students to be on their best behavior when the teacher knows a supervisor will be on hand to observe. Spring said part of the job is understanding that people will act differently when in front of the superintendent.
“As superintendent, you will see that I only see people on their best behavior,” Spring said. “It’s a little different seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.”
“Yep,” Alex responded.
Sometimes, Spring’s day lasts late into the night, as he attends school board meetings or other school activities. Alex was scheduled to go until 6 or 6:30 on Monday night, but he said he could work as late as the job called for.
“When Mr. Spring calls it a day, I can call it a day,” Alex said. “I have as long as I need. You can’t leave a job half done.”