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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Principals take to the road

Lidgerwood Elementary School Principal Valorie Chadwick reaches for some information in her mobile office at Bemiss Elementary while on her way to another school looking for her staff and students Thursday. 
 (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Lidgerwood Elementary School Principal Valorie Chadwick reaches for some information in her mobile office at Bemiss Elementary while on her way to another school looking for her staff and students Thursday. (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)

They’ve been dubbed school POWs – principals on wheels.

Their old schools are now fields of dirt and construction equipment, awaiting new buildings.

About 1,000 students from Lincoln Heights, Ridgeview and Lidgerwood Elementary schools have been placed at 16 other schools for one year.

Principals of the three schools must take to the road to keep up with their students and staff.

“My car is 10 years old,” said Valorie Chadwick, Lidgerwood principal. “I hope it lasts.”

Chadwick has three offices at three schools. That means three piles of papers and materials for three groups of students. It doesn’t help that her office assistant was placed at a fourth school, Balboa, which is in far-flung northwest Spokane. It’s like her right hand is no longer attached, Chadwick said.

“I haven’t figured out how to be organized,” Chadwick said Thursday as she collected her things at Bemiss Elementary on her way to Whitman Elementary to watch students during lunch.

By 9:30 a.m., she had already been to two schools before she arrived to meet with staff coaches at Bemiss. However, her two counterparts have students spread out at twice as many schools. She considers herself lucky.

“I have it good,” Chadwick said.

Mike McGinnis, principal of Lincoln Heights, decided that if he had to keep up with students at seven schools he had better do it in a car that got better than 13 miles a gallon like his Dodge Truck.

“I was out looking for an old Volkswagen,” McGinnis said.

He came home with a ‘74 Porsche.

“If I’m going to cruise around, I’m going to cruise around in something fun,” McGinnis said. “The heat doesn’t work too well, and it’s loud.”

He said he’s noticed looks from neighbors when he drives away.

Since Tuesday, McGinnis has gotten to each of the seven schools, Roosevelt, Moran Prairie, Mullan Road, Hamblen, Adams, Sheridan and Franklin.

“I wanted to make a connection to let the kids know I’ll still be around,” McGinnis said.

He’s put in 35 to 40 miles a day. They get reimbursed 40.5 cents a mile, if they remember to record their miles.

The students have been resilient. An informal poll of one class during lunch at Whitman showed the Lidgerwood students all liked the change.

McGinnis has heard the same sentiments from his Lincoln Heights students.

“They’ve got carpet and air conditioning, something we didn’t have before,” McGinnis said.

Kathy Williams, principal at Ridgeview Elementary, spent part of Thursday afternoon riding the school bus with kindergarten students to ensure they got off at the right stops.

An unexpected perk of being a principal on wheels is being able to chat daily with another principal, to compare notes and ideas. They’ve also seen how each school had different routines, be it how they line up for lunch or ways they greet parents and students on the first day of school.

“We get pretty isolated in our buildings,” McGinnis said.

This year is also an adventure for teachers like Joe Biegler, a Lidgerwood fifth-grade teacher reassigned for the year to Whitman.

Biegler hadn’t left his old classroom in two decades. His room was first set up during Expo ‘74, when Nixon was in office and gas was around 30 cents a gallon.

“It’s been very pleasant,” Biegler said about boxing up his class and moving to a new school.

The three elementary schools are among the projects funded through a $165 million capital bond. Each school is budgeted for around $6 million.

All three new elementaries will be larger. Lincoln Heights, 3322 E. 22nd Ave., will expand from 33,000 square feet to 55,400 square feet. Ridgeview, 1515 W. Joseph Ave., will grow from almost 40,000 square feet to 48,500 square feet. Lidgerwood, 325 E. Rowan, will enlarge from 31,000 square feet to 46,000 square feet.

All of the new schools will feature modern amenities, such as better use of natural light and the latest technology.

Chadwick has the same poster in her three temporary offices – a rendering of her new school. She points to where her office will be and sighs.

If all goes as planned, that’s where she’ll be next year.

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