Second Grade Teacher Sharon Sauer admits that her desk was always messy. So it was no surprise when Audubon Elementary School Principal Diane Embry walked in and asked her to tidy up a bit. It was the reason why Embry asked that left Sauer’s chin on the floor.
“I had no idea what was going on. Not a clue!” Sauer recalled. “She walked in to my classroom and very quietly said, ‘How long would it take you to clean off your desk?’ I was thinking there must have been someone from the newspaper or central office or something coming. But then she looked at me and very calmly said, ‘Well … the President is coming and he might want to look in here.’ That’s how I found out!”
To have the President of the United States visit your school is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you could never forget. May 3rd marked the 15 year anniversary of President Clinton’s visit to AES, but the remaining staff who were there that day still remember it like it was yesterday.
It was Administrative Assistant Linda Haynes’ job to communicate with White House Staff and the Secret Service. “They came in and gave strict instructions on what should say and not say to media and parents,” Haynes remembers. “I had a Secret Service officer right here next to me and they listened to every phone call that came in or went out the entire day. They also had a private phone line set up here in the office.”
President Clinton visited Audubon during a two-day School Reform Tour where he highlighted his plan to turn around low performing schools. Part of that plan included federal funding to subsidize 100,000 new teachers nationwide as part of his education reform. First year AES teacher Crystal Davidson was the “Clinton Teacher” that year. After President Clinton’s speech in the gym, he visited Davidson’s classroom and read Charlotte’s Web to the class.
Haynes and the front office staff knew that Audubon was a possible stop on the tour about a month prior to the President’s visit, but it was not confirmed until 2 days before. That left a lot of preparation to be done in a very short time. Everyone had to be screened and approved by the Secret Service in order to be in the gym, where President Clinton gave his speech. Marine One practiced landing on the lawn. Snipers scouted the perimeter and planned strategic checkpoints. The entire building was transformed overnight – inside and out. OPD, Daviess County Sheriff’s Department, and State Police collaborated to assist the motorcade, keep traffic flowing on 60, and ensure the safety of on-lookers.
OwensboroLiving interviewed six AES staff members about what they remember most about the day the President visited their school.
Tina Jennings – What I remember the most was watching it on our TV monitors – because my class couldn’t go into the gym where he was giving his speech – and hearing the helicopter land and thinking, “Woah, this is for real.”
Susie Jackson – I remember how united we were. Usually politics divide people, but we were one big “blue machine” (Audubon’s school color).
Natalie Haynes – Exactly! There was no Republican or Democrat that day. It did not matter in that moment. He was just our President. And we were all in awe of that fact that he was in our building. It was a surreal experience.
Sherri Smith – I remember the Secret Service. They were everywhere. In the gym. On the roof. In the hallways. Out in the field where the helicopter landed.
Abby Flake – They walked through every room with dogs to check and make sure it was safe.
Linda Haynes – And snipers. There were snipers on the roof. Snipers on top of the buses (because buses were lined up like a barricade between the Greystone Estates neighborhood and school property).
Natalie Haynes – Once we knew he was coming for sure, the whole school was transformed overnight. They planted shrubs and trees and spread mulch. They put in metal detectors. They hung black curtains all along the walls of the cafeteria because that’s where the press was. Nobody could see in or out the windows to the media center because that’s where the Secret Service were set up.
Sherri Smith – We all tried to prepare the kids the best we could. We made presidential hats and things like that.
Natalie Haynes – The children were not allowed to bring in backpacks and everybody had to walk through the metal detectors. Some of them thought that was pretty cool.
Tina Jennings – I remember they also took down some of the playground equipment so nobody could hide in them. And they completely redid the boys’ bathroom – they hung curtains and put carpet down so it looked like a hallway. You would have had no idea it was a bathroom walking through there. It was amazing!
Susie Jackson – Yeah, because they brought him in the side door. The helicopter landed in the field, then they walked him through the boys’ bathroom because that was the quickest way into the gym. Crystal (Davidson)’s classroom was right next to that bathroom too, where he read to her class.
Dawn Swift – The most exciting thing was when he came in to the gym to speak. It was just amazing how excited everybody was.
Linda Haynes – The kids were so excited! I’ll never forget that.
Dawn Swift – I got to shake his hand and I remember thinking he was much taller than I thought. You don’t realize that when you see him on TV, but he was quite tall.
Tina Jennings – He was very charismatic. And very personable. When he shook your hand he looked right at you and you felt it.
Susie Jackson – I will never forget the fabric of his suit. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t come from around here. It was a fine fabric!
Natalie Haynes – He made it a point to shake every child’s hand. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders were in the gym. But then the rest of the kids were lined down the sidewalk and he walked by and shook every kid’s hand.
Sherri Smith – While we were waiting, the Marine One helicopter pilot came into our classroom and took a picture with our kids. I still have that picture.
Abby Flake – It united us as a staff. It all bonded us together. It was a highlight for all of us.
Dawn Swift – It was like riding a high for the rest of the school year.
Abby Flake – I still get cold chills talking about it now.