DECATUR — There’s a new Ronald McDonald in town, but his costume wasn’t ready by Friday, when he was scheduled to visit Parsons School. The famous red wig hadn’t arrived in time.

“He’d have looked like me,” quipped Principal Jonathan Downing, pointing to his hairless pate.

Amid the laughter of the Parsons students, McDonald’s owner/operator Gary Birschbach promised Ronald would come in the fall for a program, but meanwhile, he had an announcement to make.

Recently, Downing and nearly the whole school staff worked at McDonald’s for three hours alongside the regular crew for a fundraiser called McTeachers Night, something McDonald’s does for schools to help them raise money for extras.

“McDonald’s came to me and asked me if we could do this because they wanted to support our school,” Downing told the students during an afternoon assembly. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

Parsons raised the most of any school this year in Birschbach’s restaurants, and Birschbach said he was going to tell other schools, “Here’s the record number to beat.” Their total of tips was $150 and their 20 percent of the profit for the night was $720 for a total of $870.

The night before one of these events, Birschbach said, school staff is invited to decorate the store to reflect their school’s character — in the school colors, or in a holiday theme, for example — so that patrons will know it’s a special event. Then school staff works side by side with McDonald’s employees at the front counter and drive-up window. Birschbach had six schools in the same week in the fall and plans to invite nine schools — a little more spread out over time — this year.

Many of his employees are students, and he enjoys watching them work with the teachers and principals, he said.

“Some of (the crew) had these teachers when they were in elementary school,” Birschbach said.

In fact, Downing encountered some students he’d known from his days at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and he said in those days, these students were often in trouble, so it did his heart good to see them working so hard and being responsible and productive at their jobs.

“They might not stay with McDonald’s after they finish school,” Birschbach told Parsons students, “but they’re learning job skills they can take with them to their future careers.”

Birschbach operates the McDonald’s restaurants on North Water Street, in Forsyth and at Pilot Travel Center, and his son, Andy, was just approved to become an owner-operator, too, a process that can take several years.|(217) 421-7982

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