When Travis VanSetters popped out of his mother’s van recently at North Oakview Elementary School, Superintendent Mike Paskewicz immediately noticed something different about his kindergarten friend arriving for school.
“Hey, new shoes!” Paskewicz exclaimed, as Travis proudly showed off his snazzy red tennies with lime-green laces. “Just like the first day – one’s not tied!”
That was at the beginning of the school year, when Paskewicz first spied this spunky little guy sporting red tennis shoes. The superintendent pointed out to Travis then that his shoes were on the wrong feet. Retorted the boy, “I think your shoes are on the wrong feet, and they are black.”
Thus began a year-long friendship that has seen Paskewicz don his own pair of red tennies in weekly visits to North Oakview. When Paskewicz first showed up in red Converse All-Stars, Travis quipped, “It’s about time you got a pair.”
For Paskewicz, Travis has become a “life coach” who has taught him important truths about what it means to be an educator. He wears his red tennies every Thursday – including in meetings with state legislators – as a reminder of his responsibility to all 3,400 Northview students.
“He validated that it’s important to take what we do for kids very seriously,” Paskewicz said of Travis. “The decisions we’re making are impacting kids like Travis.”
On the other hand, Travis’ playful spirit reminds the school chief not to take himself too seriously. Wearing red tennis shoes, he has found, “makes people smile.”
Legislative Lessons and a Cool Cat
Paskewicz has chronicled his Thursday visits on his blog, reflecting on what he learns from Travis and other students and teachers at North Oakview. He fills in for part of the morning while Principal Teya Cotter stays home with her young twins.
The visits help him see firsthand the needs of schools and the effects of state budget cuts on classrooms, he said, adding, “I don’t believe there’s a single legislator that understands the impact on a building like this.”
Travis has come to symbolize all Northview students in a way. When public-education advocate Jamie Vollmer recently spoke to district teachers, Travis presented him with his own pair of red tennies.
Travis’ mother said his relationship with Paskewicz has helped his confidence in school. He is already talking about the fall and whether Paskewicz will still be wearing red shoes with him.
“Mike has made a profound impact on Travis’ life,” Danielle VanSetters said. “I think it’s something he’s always going to remember.”
Standing in front of the school on a recent morning as parents dropped off their children, Paskewicz greeted each one warmly. When Travis arrived he presented Paskewicz with a gift, the book “Pete the Cat” by Eric Litwin, about a cool cat who also wears red tennis shoes.
Travis has had to “school” the superintendent on proper use of his shoes. When Paskewicz wore them outside one winter day, Travis informed him sternly that the snow would ruin them.
After showing off his new, green-laced shoes, Travis did a little math with them in teacher Dana Calhoun’s class.
“Since I bought one more pair, I have eight pairs of shoes – eight,” he calculated. “I have four, then four more pair of red shoes. Four plus four equals eight.”
Once again, Travis had the right answer.
Mike Paskewicz’s blog, “Thursdays With North Oakview”