Impact Aid survey forms put a middle school principal on the roof. A passion to motivate students kept him up there all day.
Palo Alto Middle School principal Matt Widacki, known for instilling fun in the school day and building morale, told students and staff he would work from the roof if students returned their aid forms by Sept. 28.
When the deadline arrived, the school was short 61 out of 933.
That was close enough. The principal climbed to the school building roof at 7 in the morning Oct. 1, where he worked from a small desk and chair with his laptop and cellphone.
He used a bucket pulley to hoist needed supplies, which included a tube of sunscreen, a straw hat to use as a visor and some cups of ice to cool his beloved Dr Pepper.
With a banner taped to the wall behind him urging motorists to Honk For Your Principal, Widacki received lots of attention.
He also manned a microphone with speaker and took part in instruction, reading to students a poem he wrote demonstrating similes and metaphors and launching student-made paper airplanes for measurement.
The principal also encouraged students in athletics and PE classes to run harder, exhorting them on the microphone and playing the “Rocky” movie theme song in the background.
He descended just once for a parent meeting and restroom break and returned to the roof to complete the day.
Impact Aid forms are an annual part of the start of school for Killeen ISD. The information completed by parents verifies the number of district students who are federally-connected and ties directly into the district’s federal funding.
Wearing costumes on the first day of school and taking pies in the face for United Way funding are Widacki staples.
A student suggested he go to the roof for a fundraiser last year, but the principal decided to do it for Impact Aid instead.
Last year, he said, the school was missing 186 forms at this time, so he thought the bargain might lessen teacher responsibility to remind students by getting the chore done early.
He also challenged teachers to incorporate his roof time into their lesson plans.
Art teachers sent students outside to draw portraits of their principal. Language arts classes heard his original poem about his experience — he wrote it because a teacher assigned it to him.
For Widacki, though, the bargain was more about building relationships.
“This is for them,” he said in reference to students on the ground.
“I want them to know I’ll do anything for them. A lot of them don’t have that in their life. I want a positive relationship with them and I want them to enjoy what they’re doing. I’m not the mean principal.”
“It’s a morale booster,” said teacher Mike Huggins. “The minute he announced it they started coming up with ideas,” he said of his sixth-graders. “This is fantastic.”
“It was cool,” said eighth-grader Karenina Pelias. “He actually kept his word.”
“I thought it was funny,” said eighth-grader Samantha Huggins. “He was doing dances up there. It shows he’s dedicated to students.”