When a White House staffer came into the Galesburg High School office Monday, eyebrows were raised, but no red flags.

 

When a White House staffer came into the Galesburg High School office Monday, eyebrows were raised, but no red flags.

According to GHS Response to Intervention instructor Kim Lakis, the staffer asked secretary Toni Doubet for a schedule of Wednesday’s after-school activities and sports practices.

“She said she thought it was a weird request,” said Lakis.

It wasn’t until Doubet saw the staffer a second time, accompanying President Barack Obama on his surprise visit to the high school Wednesday afternoon, that she made the connection.

District 205 Superintendent Gene Denisar said he had no reason to think the president would visit the district. He even called The Register-Mail Wednesday morning to report the schools would not have any special programs since the president was not stopping in Galesburg.

“He just showed up,” said Denisar. “We had no advance call from anyone.”

The only call Denisar did receive, in fact, was from Lakis.

She said she saw the motorcade pull up to GHS as she was walking out of the building and immediately called the district office.

Denisar, along with assistant superintendents Joel Estes and Guy Cahill, arrived at GHS just minutes later to find a veritable circus had descended on the campus as Obama was addressing the football and volleyball teams on the practice field.

“This is how fast information spreads nowadays,” said Denisar. “There were close to 1,000 cars and people there ... parked everywhere.”

Denisar said he and Estes made it through security, but Cahill, just “30 seconds behind,” was turned away as staffers closed the line to enter the field.

With fortunate timing, Denisar and Estes each were able to speak with the president.

“I thanked him for coming and showing interest in our school district and our community,” said Denisar. “It was really neat. I’ve never shaken the hand of a sitting president in my life. That’s one of my bucket list items.”

Estes said he jumped at the opportunity to talk business with the president.

“I got to say some words on No Child Left Behind,” said Estes of the 10-year-old education law he has long taken issue with.

“I’ve been writing him letters about it for a while now, but to finally get to actually talk to him face to face about it, I never expected that.”

Estes said Obama acknowledged the problems he and other educators have had with NCLB since it’s inception, and he promised to continue working toward education reform.

“He said he’d have those (NCLB) waivers out to states as soon as possible,” said Estes.

Denisar said Obama spent “about 15 minutes on the field,” addressing the football and volleyball teams, along with any other students and staff who happened to be on campus after hours.

“He spent quite a bit of time with us,” he said. “He complimented the school district and complimented the students. ... It was just really neat.”

Denisar said he had no idea why Obama chose to visit the football practice unannounced before his scheduled stop in Alpha on Wednesday, but Lakis did. “It’s what brings communities together,” she said. “Sports.”