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Witnessing change first hand
by Garrett Valenzuela
May 08, 2013 | 1961 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Shaw Middle School Principal Gina Leonard hosts Cumulus Radio broadcaster Ron James for the Principal for a Day program Wednesday in Sparks.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Shaw Middle School Principal Gina Leonard hosts Cumulus Radio broadcaster Ron James for the Principal for a Day program Wednesday in Sparks.
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The chance to observe a Washoe County School District (WCSD) principal for an entire day could potentially offer several curveballs for an outsider. Bus or recess duty meshed with parent meetings, class surveillance and unexpected occurrences are only a part of what makes the Principal for a Day program exciting.

The Education Alliance has offered the program for more than five years and the tales business and community leaders leave the schools with continue to stockpile. While no two school experiences are the same, a common thread among participants was expressed in how different the intricacies of schools and principals have changed.

“One common theme we hear from many of them during the debriefing is how the school’s have really changed from when they were in school,” Education Alliance Executive Director Denise Hedrick said Wednesday. “Back then, the principal was this individual to be kind of be feared. Now the principals, especially at the elementary and middle schools, know the kids by name. They come up to give principals hugs and they know what is happening with the kids on a social and academic level.

“These principals know their children and it is very apparent that they care about the kids and they have a warm relationship with principals, which I think is startlingly different. I think the other thing (participants discuss) is how busy a principal’s day is. I think they are pretty amazed with the diversity of roles the principal plays at the school site.”

Business, education and community leaders were spread throughout Washoe County Wednesday, pairing up with principals in 25 schools across the district. The Education Alliance, which Hedrick said acts as the “conduit” for interaction between the business community and WCSD, offered insight to more than just a principal’s day.

“First of all, it creates, I believe, a respectful understanding of what education today faces,” Hedrick said. “It also builds relationships between the community and the schools, and for our principals working side by side with someone who is out in the community, helps them grow and see the perspective of an outsider looking into their school.”

Hedrick said principals have the opportunity to see their respective schools in different ways that may not have been examined previously. For instance, many principals were able to understand the commonalities between their school and a business, which Hedrick said can often benefit both parties by the end of the program.

“A lot of times principals don't necessarily think of their schools as a business, but a business person looks at it that way and sees principals as the CEO’s of their schools,” Hedrick said. “It helps to share that paradigm with principals and show them they are in that leadership role with managing the budget, working with personnel and all of those things added onto the main goal of making children learn.

“Different kinds of things happen during the relationships. We have some schools where their business partner ends up becoming a partner in education with the school or with a classroom and they decide it would be a good place to spend some time and learn more about. It doesn't happen in all cases, but it is really a bonus for this program. It is not something we preconceive, but it is one of those things that can organically occur.”

After a day spent at a Washoe County school, all participants convene for a debriefing session to share their experiences and evaluate the program for possible improvement. Hedrick said adding the debriefing component was a vital step for the Education Alliance in keeping strong connections with the outside community.

“I believe it is one of the really important pieces of what we do,” Hedrick said, “Because there is so much that happens in the day at the schools for the principal and the individual, having an opportunity to summarize the emotional impact, unique awareness and experiences from other people who had similar or different things happen at their schools is important for this program.

“It is a very important part of a powerful day where they can unwind and process what their experience was. The other thing about that day is we want to invite the principals to stay connected. We hope to do even more with it over time.”

Hedrick said the evolution and progression of the event has brought growth in the number of businesses and schools participating each year. She said the goal of the program is to reach all 93 schools in the district, but she added that coordinating each one on a single day is a near-impossible task.

Hedrick said the Principal for a Day Alumni Program works to keep businesses and community members informed, gain their opinions and look for referrals for future participants in the event.

“We also go through the Chamber Education Committee and some of our service clubs for referrals,” she said. “It kind of builds on itself in that sense. If school board members or principals say ‘This is someone I have met who could really benefit from it’ then we will reach out to them.

“I just believe that this is an important opportunity that we will embed in these relationships between the community and the schools and we will continue to offer that to them.”
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