August 13, 2004
New Kerr Elementary School principal Thea Hansen, 43, welcomed her first students back to school Thursday a little sooner than expected.
Children excited about the end of summer started trickling onto the west Mesa campus almost as soon as Hansen arrived at 6:30 a.m. She escorted the first two students home and told them to wait a little longer — but by the time she returned to campus several more children had taken their place.
"Guys, it’s 7:09," Hansen said to one group of boys waiting anxiously for the playground gates to open. "You’re more than 40 minutes early."
"Well, we’re here," said one of the boys, smiling and holding a yellow soccer ball.
After months of preparation, a new era had started for Hansen and thousands of other educators, students and parents who returned to schools Thursday across Mesa, Gilbert and parts of Chandler.
Dozens of children quickly swarmed around Hansen, asking for hugs or waving as they walked past.
They recognized Hansen, one of 10 new principals this year in the Mesa Unified School District, because she had split her time in 2003-04 as an assistant administrator at their campus and Eisenhower Elementary School.
Hansen called many of the children by name and asked others for hints. "Tell me what letter it starts with," she asked one girl.
On Hansen’s way to unlock the primary level playground, she paused at the flagpole to greet the school’s 81-year-old namesake, retired Mesa pediatrician John K. Kerr. He had stopped for a visit to the school before a morning appointment at a children’s charity clinic.
Soon, Hansen watched as children wearing Spider-Man, Hello Kitty and Barbie backpacks lined up behind their teachers and said goodbye to their parents.
"We’ll be at the flagpole waiting," said one mother, kneeling beside her firstgrade daughter. "We love you, OK."
Hansen filled the next two hours touring the campus, coordinating the schedules of her playground aides and visiting classrooms.
"You’ll see me around," she told one fifth-grade class. "Sometimes I like to play tetherball or kickball."
Hansen developed those playground skills at the start of her career 20 years ago as a physical education teacher at Mesa’s Pomeroy Elementary School.
After spending all morning on her feet, Hansen leaned against a counter briefly in the nurse’s office near an oscillating fan.
"I’m just hogging your air for a bit," she told the nurse.
Then it was back to work — this time as a bus monitor for the morning kindergartners taking their first ride home.
Standing with her clipboard next to the bus door, Hansen checked off the names of children as they entered the bus wearing their new yellow visors made of construction paper and decorated with crayons and foam shapes.
"You’ve been a lifesaver today," the bus driver told Hansen at the end of the route. "Thank you."
Hansen packed her own lunch — leftover salad and cold pizza — but did not eat until every student had finished lunch and the cafeteria was clean.
"My feet want to sit," she told a staff member in the conference room, as she took out her food.
Next, Hansen turned her attention to the last task of the day: Getting all 757 students home safely.
Six full-size buses, seven special education buses, eight day care vans and a line of cars waited in front of the school. A few glitches emerged — none serious — and soon the campus was quiet again.
Hansen then finished her day with a staff meeting and various administrative tasks in her office. About 12 hours after she arrived, she clocked out.
"It’s been a calorieburning day, that’s for sure," she said.
New principals in the Mesa Unified School District:
• Hale Elementary, Susan Marshall
• Hawthorne Elementary, Scott Cumberledge
• Jefferson Elementary, Dan Sapien
• Jordan Elementary, Mark Andrews
• Kerr Elementary, Thea Hansen
• Mesa Junior High, Catherine McDaniel
• Red Mountain High, Gerald Slemmer
• Sirrine Elementary, Willie Fort
• Stapley Junior High, Ken Erickson
• Wilson Elementary, John Nesbitt