It had already been a hectic January day. It was early in the month of the brand new semester – that time of year when every superintendent, principal and teacher bargains with a higher power for all to go well, then slips on the comfortable shoes, grabs the walkie-talkie, and prepares – not for the worst – but for anything.
Anything. Like feral cats.
In the world of public school leaders, feral cats represent one of the more minor issues that can throw a perfectly fine day into full-tilt mayhem. Educators know this.
So, on that day, when former principal and current Grand Prairie ISD superintendent Susan Simpson Hull received an email from a neighborhood citizen about feral cats under the school building, she didn’t think twice. Let’s go get those cats, she thought. Let’s keep the kids safe.
“I responded to the email, you know, ‘Thanks for alerting me to the problem; the safety of our children is most important,’” Hull says. “But she [the citizen] wrote back saying the cats are not being taken care of; that they live under the school building; that someone has put a metal plate over the vent. She accused the principal of poisoning the cats and said she was going to contact all the animals rights groups. She even said she was going to report me for animal cruelty! At first, I thought she was saying we had a cat problem, but she was saying I wasn’t taking care of the feral cats!”
The situation was handled, but Hull says it’s just one of a million stories she could tell about school leaders taking on all sorts of roles.
“Like, a few years ago, we said no more ‘heat and serve’ food,” Hull says. “Just fresh veggies, salad bars and fruits, and our food would be cooked and prepared in the cafeterias instead of pre-packaged. One parent – a healthcare worker – was furious, and said we had served chicken on the salad bar with the raw salads and vegetables. I was very concerned about that. We discovered with a little investigation it wasn’t chicken at all, it was ham!”
Feral cats and raw chicken fears. There’s that. Then, there are budget shortfalls, personnel problems, academic underachievement and disciplinary issues. Despite the nature of the complication, experts say time and time again our school leaders bring to the fore a kind of courage that is seldom fully appreciated.