When the Students at Virginia's Page Elementary School Hit the Books, Their Principal Hit the Roof

updated 01/15/1990 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/15/1990 01:00AM

When children began arriving at the Page Elementary School in Arlington, Va., on one recent morning, they were greeted by a startling sight. Up on the school's roof, a dignified fellow, resplendent in derby and tails, was taking his ease in a lawn chair.

The elegant gent on the roof was not a chimney sweep or a gentleman cat burglar on a coffee break. He was, in fact, Dr. Frank Miller, the school principal and cheerful loser of a wager with his own students.

On Sept. 29, Miller had bet his 350 students that they couldn't read 2,500 books in six weeks. If they did, he promised, he would spend the day on the roof. "I don't think they really thought I would do it," says Miller, 51. "But I told them,'If you hold up your end of the bargain, I'll hold up mine, rain or shine.' "

The children got right down to it. First grader Katie Gustafson read 94 books, a four-book-a-day rate. Her favorite, she said, was The Berenstain Bears & Too Much Junk Food. Indeed, the younger children set the pace, since their books have fewer pages. "These first graders were reading like 50 books, but they're only about 10 pages long," grumbled P. T. Burch, one fifth-grade boy. "Our books are like 100 pages." In all cases, reading was done outside school hours and had to be attested to by a parent's signature.

The halls were decorated with posters urging students to PUT DR. MILLER ON THE ROOF! They did just that, with a grand total of 2,700 books read, 200 more than the goal set by Miller.

And so, Miller got to spend a day (well, it was really a school day—7:30 A.M. to 1 P.M.) on the roof. It was an unseasonably warm day, and the good Dr. Miller entertained himself by strolling around, chatting with visitors and lunching on pizza. Miller's students are guessing that this isn't his last offbeat motivational stunt. "He might sit down in the furnace room for two days or something," said Erin Walsh, 10. At least then he wouldn't be a cat on a cool tile roof.

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