Guys night up: Principal, Superintendent spend night atop Lewis and Clark Elementary

Lewistown Public Schools Superintendent Jason Butcher, left, and Lewis and Clark Principal Danny Witzberger stand on top of Lewis and Clark Elementary School Thursday. Butcher said he’d slept in worse places, but Witzberger said he wasn’t so sure.

Photo by Charlie Denison

Lewis and Clark Principal Danny Witzberger gets set-up for his night on the rooftop of his school. He and Superintendent Jason Butcher said they’d stay the night up there if the students read 90 million words by March 1.

Photo by Charlie Denison

Charlie Denison

Lewis and Clark Principal Danny Wirtzberger thought it was safe to tell his students he’d spend the night on the roof of the school if they read 35 million words between Jan 1 and March 1, totaling 90 million words for the year.

“Although I’m their biggest fan, I didn’t think they’d be able to do it,” Wirtzberger said. “That’s a lot of words to read over the course of a year.”

It was a lofty goal. In fact, it was so ambitious that Lewistown Superintendent of Schools Jason Butcher said he’d join Wirtzberger if the students made it happen.

“[Butcher] told me if the kids could get 90 million, he’d join me,” Wirtzberger said. “Before that the goal was 85 million. It was a fun way to get that extra incentive.”


Keeping their promise

As students left the school Thursday, they were pleased to see their principal sitting down on the roof, waving as they found their rides. Many waved back and smiled proudly. If they looked carefully, they could even see Wirtzberger’s tent.

Although not ordinarily a camper, the principal was ready to go, albeit a little nervous, wondering if he knew what he’d gotten himself into this time, or, better yet, what the children got him into.

Nevertheless, he was a good sport about it, thinking less about his comfort and more about the students’ achievement.


Creative techniques

Camping on the roof may seem unusual, but when you consider other techniques administrators have used to motivate students to read lately, it’s not a far stretch.

“It started in the fall,” Wirtzberger said. “I challenged the students to read 30 million words before the Cat-Griz football game. They achieved this goal, so the school’s top readers got to throw a pie in my face. I also had to wear a Grizzly football uniform, and I’m a huge Cats fan.”

Students didn’t just read 30 million words; they read 36 million, obliterating their goal. Inspired by the absurd prizes, other Lewistown schools started to use similar antics in hopes of motivating more students to read.

At Garfield, Principal Matt Lewis and some of his staff jumped off a bridge into Spring Creek after the students achieved their goal for February’s “I Love to Read” month. Similarly, Highland Park Principal Matthew Ventresca put lipstick on and kissed a pig in front of his whole school.


A Grand Finale

Considering all these success stories, Wirtzberger knew he’d have to set the bar high this time. He wanted this challenge to really push the students, and, if they could pull it off, he wouldn’t complain.

“I didn’t sleep well,” Wirtzberger said. “I tossed and turned, but it was all worth it. The kids stuck to their goal and I’m proud of them.”

There was reason to be proud, as the students exceeded all expectations.

“They read about a million words a day in February,” Wirtzberger said. “One the last day alone, they read five million words. They got it done right before the last assembly.”

That kind of drive greatly impressed Wirtzberger and the staff, who played a large part in making this happen.

“I’d like to thank librarian Angela Archuleta, the Elementary PTO, the teachers, Jason Butcher, the parents and others for helping the kids accomplish this goal,” Wirtzberger said. “We are very excited for the kids that they were able to make this happen.”

Butcher echoed Wirtzberger’s sentiments, saying he was impressed with the students’ hard work. Seeing that kind of dedication made it easy for him to fulfill his part of the deal.

“I’m glad they met their goal,” he said. “I was happy to hang out with Danny up here for the night.”



But it was the students who seemed to express the most enthusiasm.

Knowing this was their doing, students were very supportive of their administrators.  Some even stopped by in the evening and brought snacks or coffee.

“It was great to see the students enjoying it and great to see them smiling this morning when they saw us up there,” Wirtzberger said. “It was a fun morning. Jason brought his boom box and we jammed out to “Y-M-C-A.”

But despite the fun that was had, Wirtzberger did hint that he probably wouldn’t have minded one of the other options presented to the students for their “prize.”

“They could have slimed me or dressed me up as a hot dog and then squirted me with ketchup and mustard, but camping on the roof was an overwhelming favorite. And, even though I love ketchup and mustard, what matters at the end of the day is the option that makes them read the most.”





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