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Read enough, and principal will do wacky things

Lake Placid Elementary School’s Sonja Franklin spends night in tent after students meet reading goal

April 13, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Lake Placid Elementary School Principal Sonja Franklin dug out her orange and white Coleman tent and set it up on the front lawn of the school Monday afternoon, April 9. That's where she spent the night.

Principals in this school do wacky things in April, as long as the students meet their annual springtime reading challenge.

"The challenge was to read 50,000 minutes during the month of March," Franklin said next to the tent around 7 p.m. Monday. "The kids read almost 79,000. They were excited about the challenge. They were excited about me camping out."

Article Photos

Lake Placid Elementary School Principal Sonja Franklin poses with her dog Ries Monday evening, April 9, on the front lawn of the school, where she spent the night. She told students that she would sleep in a tent overnight at the school if they met their March reading goal of 50,000 minutes. They read 79,000 minutes.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Franklin hasn't camped out in several years, so she thought this would be a unique incentive for the students.

"I think they realized that I will follow through, so I think that's what really motivated them to do a lot of reading," she said.

Franklin was, however, hoping for warmer temperatures, about 45 degrees at night. No such luck. But she took it in stride.

"It is what it is," she said.

After dropping off her son at home, Franklin returned to the school around 7 p.m. Monday with her dog, Ries, who also spent the night in the tent. After setting up Christmas lights on the tent and a nearby spruce tree, she put a purple-and-white checkered table cloth on a picnic table where she and her husband ate Chinese take-out dinner. He didn't spend the night.

Purple seems to be one of Franklin's colors of choice. After students met their reading challenge last year, she dyed her hair purple. Franklin was supposed to dye her hair purple in 2016, her first year as principal, but the students didn't meet their reading goal.

"They asked me if I was going to dye my hair purple, and I said, 'No, you didn't meet your challenge. You didn't meet the goal.' So the next year they really kicked it in," she said.

Lake Placid Elementary School principals have made it a tradition to trade wacky stunts for reading challenge goals. In 2015, the entire student body, faculty and staff watched Lake Placid barber Norm Martin cut off all of Interim Principal Ernest Witkowski's hair, including the beard he had since the late 1970s and mustache he had since the late 1960s.

"The first goal was 40,000 minutes, which was to buzz cut my head," Witkowski told the News in 2015. "Then they got to 50,000, and they could take my mustache. And then 60,000, it was the beard. Everything would come off. There was no promise of shaving; it was just to buzz it down as close as we could."

In 2014, Principal Brian Latella was duct-taped to a wall and longtime Principal Don Morrison once worked from his desk on the school's roof after students met their reading goal.

This year, the theme of the school's challenge is "Superheroes. What's your superpower?"

"I always emphasize in the kids that you don't have to be extraordinary to do extraordinary things and to follow through with your commitment," Franklin said Monday evening, "so that's one reason I'm still out here in the 30-degree weather."

Before going to bed, she had some visitors. A third grader stopped by with hot cocoa. Some teachers kept her company for a little bit, with s'mores and coffee. And the four children who live across the street from the school welcomed her to the neighborhood.

"At 8 o'clock, they all shouted, 'Good night, Mrs. Franklin!'" she said Wednesday.

Franklin slept in a three-season tent, meaning it was not built for winter camping.

"It was a bit chilly," she said.

The temperature that night eventually dipped into the teens before Franklin woke up to greet the school busses shortly before 8 a.m.

"The children appreciated seeing Ries and I playing ball as they arrived," she said.

Asked what book Franklin brought to read in the tent, the she paused, then pointed to the school and said, "I have a library full of books."

As for the potty parlor, there was no outhouse set up, so indoor plumbing - in a warm school - was available in case the need arose.

"I won't be completely roughing it," she said Monday.

For next year's challenge, Franklin and LPES Reading Specialist Laura Coffin are already brainstorming some ideas.

"She suggested I camp out for a whole week," Franklin said. "No."



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