Salisbury High seniors get to dine with principal in tradition going back 30 years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 23, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — A table in the center of Salisbury High School’s cafeteria is reserved for Principal Dr. Windsor Eagle and five lunch guests every day.
But those guests aren’t who you might expect. They aren’t public officials, teachers and administrators; they’re students from the school’s senior class.
Invitations printed on bright gold paper are sent to every senior throughout the year, offering them a chance to dine with Eagle.
Some show, others skip out, Eagle said. It’s their choice.
“I think some of them don’t like the idea of eating lunch with the principal,” he said.
The students who do decide to dine with Eagle arrive to a table covered with a red tablecloth and white lace overlay. They use red linen napkins and drink from stemmed glasses.
The fancy table settings have only become part of the tradition during the past seven years, but Eagle has been hosting the lunches for more than three decades.
Undoing segregation
The lunches started not long after Eagle came to the school in 1980.
After taking over, Eagle noticed a trend in the cafeteria, which at that time was split into two rooms with serving lines in the middle.
“We segregated ourselves by ethnicity, and I was told it had been that way ever since the schools integrated back in 1971,” he said. “I decided that wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do.”
Eagle started hosting the lunches and inviting students from different backgrounds to attend.
“I wanted to show the students that we could mix and mingle and have a good time,” he said.
Later, Eagle took the integration of the cafeteria a step further, using bond money to turn the cafeteria into one large room.
“Now the kids still eat with whoever they want,” he said. “But it’s not a true segregation of the dining room anymore.”
Getting to know them
Eagle said he continues to dine with Salisbury High’s seniors on a daily basis because he enjoys it.
“You get good information, and you get to know your students,” he said.
As Connor Miller, Whitney Brown, Cedrick Spencer and Makeila Little arrived for lunch Tuesday, Eagle greeted them and asked if they wanted water or iced tea.
He poured each student a glass of tea before pouring water for himself.
“You all aren’t going healthy like I am,” he joked before taking his seat.
Eagle kicked off the lunch by asking the students what they’re plans are for the future.
Responses varied.
Miller plans to study engineering at Furman University, where he hopes to play soccer.
Brown isn’t sure where she’s going, but she wants to take a pre-medical track in hopes of becoming an optometrist.
Little said she’s going to Fayetteville State University to pursue nursing.
And Spencer plans to enlist in the Army.
As each student answered, Eagle asked if they had taken the classes to prepare them for such careers.
Eagle went on to ask about their favorite memory, favorite teacher, what they would tell a student who was interested in attending Salisbury High and their opinion on the graduation project.
“You get some good feedback from them,” Eagle said. “You get an idea about what makes a good teacher, which is interesting even though it’s pretty similar from day to day.”
Questions and advice
Eagle asked the students if they blog or use Twitter.
He also asked for their opinion about a local newsworthy topic.
“What do you think about prayer at public meetings?” Eagle asked, referring to the recent controversy sparked when the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to stop opening its meetings with sectarian prayers.
Toward the end of the lunch, he brought up rising gas prices.
Eagle said he tries to touch on a number of topics each day.
“We have a variety of students,” he said. “You figure we’ve got some in AP (Advanced Placement) classes and some who maybe are barely getting by and they won’t talk when you talk about going into medicine, but if you talk about gas, that affects everybody.”
Throughout most of the lunch, Eagle listens. But he always offers at least one piece of advice.
“When you go to college, there is one word you need to know to be successful. It’s two letters: No,” he said. “There is so much to do that you can spend every night doing something.
“You’ve got to prioritize what you go to and what you don’t go to.”
‘A good thing’
A student office assistant helps Eagle set up the lunches each day, inviting a diverse group of seniors in keeping with tradition.
Brown said she thinks the lunches are a good idea.
“It helps people stay focused and realize that they have to have plans at this time in their lives,” she said.
Spencer agreed, saying, “it’s a good thing.”
During Tuesday’s lunch, Eagle joked around with the students, making all of them laugh at some point.
That’s another advantage of taking time out to eat with the seniors, Eagle said.
“It lets them see there is a human side to administrators,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.