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Just Wear It

The concrete courtyard in front of the Department of Education was baked by relentlessly sunny skies, but that didn't stop hundreds of department employees from feasting on free hot dogs, snow cones, popcorn, and sodas during a team- building lunch in late June.

A band played background music as employees tried to find shade and munched free food. Then Secretary of Education Rod Paige took the stage for a pep talk.

Mr. Paige tried to rev up the crowd with a litany of compliments for their work on the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001. He said he wanted to use employees' ideas to improve the state of education in the country.

"We want to harvest the collective thoughts of all your minds and push that together like a laser beam" to focus on problems, Mr. Paige told the crowd.

Just behind him were the little red schoolhouses with "No Child Left Behind" signs that mark entrances to the agency's main building. But Mr. Paige said he didn't want to stop there. He wanted to start a fashion trend that would overtake the Nike "swoosh" baseball caps. He predicted caps with the "No Child Left Behind" logo would be a hit in the U.S. capital.

"We want them to line up to buy caps at the Department of Education," Mr. Paige said. "We're going to start a fashion trend in Washington, D.C."

The suggestion appears to be part of a public relations blitz emphasized by the red schoolhouses and scored by the new agency theme song.

Some of the lyrics, sung in an upbeat gospel sort of way, include:

"We're here to thank our president, for signing this great bill.

"Yea, research shows we know the way, it's time we showed the will."

So far the department hasn't decided what exactly to do with the ditty. Plans to use it as, say, background music for telephone callers on hold have apparently themselves been put on hold.

Mr. Paige did not make employees sing the song during the lunch. Also, as of the end of July, no trend-setting hats were available, nor were there any plans to create any.

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 21, Issue 43, Page 30

Published in Print: August 7, 2002, as Federal File

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