It was, said 7-year-old Elizabeth Murrie, "like a wish come true."
Murrie, a second-grader at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, was chosen last week as the winner of an essay contest among first, second and third graders on "What I would do if I were principal for a day."
Her duties in the prestigious post, which she assumed last Wednesday, included giving a spelling test to first-graders, evaluating a first-grade teacher, making announcements over the school's public address system, being master of ceremonies at a performance by a folk singer-cum-storyteller, and generally overseeing the school's 340 children on the last day of classes before Thanksgiving.
When asked her thoughts on undertaking such a weighty responsibility, the quiet, composed young principal responded, "It's fine. Let's just say it's all right."
Her classmates were more enthusiastic about the honor. They said it brought esteem to Nancy Gibbs' second-grade class. "I'm really glad she got to be principal," said 7-year-old Jenny Hilaya, "cause she's in our class." Other classmates, like Kira Mickle, had mixed emotions. "I was envious and glad at the same time," she said. "I wanted to be principal, but I'm glad Elizabeth won because she's in our class and she's my friend."
The idea of having a pupil be principal for a day came from the students themselves, said the school's real principal, Al Manor. "They put a tear-off sheet with the question in the school newspaper, and the idea just kind of took off from there."
In fact, said Manor, the idea was so popular that the school decided to do the contest twice. Newspaper adviser Mary Lou Kulsick explained that "When we did the tear-off sheet, the little kids complained that they couldn't compete with the fifth and sixth graders. So we decided to do the contest twice, one for grades 4-6, the other for grades 1-3." The first contest, said Kulsick, ended in a tie between fifth-grader Vondell Coleman and sixth-grader David Reamy, who were coprincipals on Nov. 14.
The essays for both contests, said Kulsick, were evaluated by a committee of four. While reading the younger children's essays, she said, the committee came to a fairly quick consensus that Elizabeth Murrie's essay was a winner. "She was the only one who said 'I like children.' We were all struck by that. Most of the essays were about giving out treats, or the thrill of being king for a day, or punishing bad children. Hers was different."
In her winning essay, Elizabeth wrote, "I would make a good principal because I would do these things. 1. I would be on my best attitude. 2. I would try my best. 3. I will be nice to the children so they won't miss behave. 4. I will make sure the patrols do good work of crossing the children and getting them safely home. I will do my best being principal cause I really like children and grown-ups."
Other students, such as classmate Son Phan, had less lofty ideals. If he were principal, wrote Son, he would "give out all kinds of ice creme, no homework, free lunch, and p.e. physical education two times." Another student, second-grader Preety Bhatt, wrote that he "would not let the children eat gum and candy all the time" nor would he allow them to "say any bad words."
One of Elizabeth's duties was giving a spelling test to Ellen Thomas' first-grade class. Thomas commented that Elizabeth "played the role very well. She gave the kids plenty of time take the test and lots of praise when they finished. She's a natural."
With the smooth style of a born leader, Elizabeth wrote in evaluating first-grade teacher Brenda Reeves, "I especially liked the way you asked questions and your friendly manner. Thanks for helping make Graham Road School the great place it is for kids."
Principal Manor, whose open-door policy encourages youngsters to troop into his office throughout the day, said of Elizabeth, "I thought she did a terrific job. I think she had the perception beforehand that the principal just sits at the desk and watches the world go by -- and she found that in fact you move around a lot and have many different responsibilities."
After one day in office, Elizabeth offered this assessment. "It's a fun job." It is, she acknowledged, work, "but it's better than raking leaves or something."