Not many kids can say they got to hit their principal in the face with a cream pie. But some lucky kids at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School got to do exactly that Friday afternoon, when principal Thomas Payton took his lumps after “losing” his annual Reading Week challenge to the students of his K-4 building.

Payton challenged his student body to read for 100,000 minutes during Reading Week — and the kids were up to the challenge. In fact, they were up to it by more than 41,000 words in excess of their principal’s goal.

“That’s the most minutes over goal ever,” Payton told the students, who were assembled in the auditorium for the much-anticipated pie-fest. “I’m shocked,” the principal said.

Then, as the auditorium filled with jubilant chants of “Pie! Pie! Pie!” Payton — dressed for the occasion in T-shirt and jeans instead of his typical suit and tie — took a seat center-stage.

First up, were kindergartners from Mrs. Jiminez’s and Mrs. Barth’s classes, which tied at 3,764 minutes each. The trio of kids chosen by the teachers to do the honors climbed to the stage carrying their own pie — a large, puffy lemon meringue brought to school by Fatima in Mrs. Barth’s class.

But the principal didn’t get much of an opportunity to enjoy the sweet confection smeared on his face by the kindergartners, because students in Mrs. Jaeger’s first-grade class, Mrs Tuohy’s second-grade class, Mrs. Verbeck’s third-grade class and Mrs. Weber’s fourth-grade class wasted no time lining up to follow suit. In quick succession they popped Cool-Whip pies in Payton’s face — with students each grade level up exhibiting more enthusiasm and boldness in the task at hand.

Just when Payton thought he’d wiped the last bit of non-dairy creamer from his face, along came an exuberant Tippy Macksel, a 28-year Roanoke staffer planning to retire at the end of this term.

“I’ve been waiting eight years for this,” Macksel joked, referring to the time Payton has been building principal at Roanoke, having transferred from Phillips Avenue.

Every year, Payton dreams up a new crazy stunt to dangle before his students as a reward for meeting his Reading Week goal. He’s dressed in a chicken suit and danced the chicken dance on stage. He’s been duct-taped to a wall by the students. He’s even had his head shaved with the word “READ” tagged into it. And the kids love it.

The principal is, hands down, Riverhead Central School District’s resident good sport — and he’ll do almost anything to encourage his students to read.

“Remember, reading doesn’t stop when Reading Week ends,” Payton told the students after he cleaned himself up. The whole student body spontaneously erupted into an enthusiastic chant of “Read! Read! Read!” — and that was the whole point of “Pie! Pie! Pie!” in the first place.

Well played, Mr. Payton and Roanoke faculty. Well played.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.