GCPS offers 40 professionals chance to be principal for a day

LAWRENCEVILLE - Jack Williams sat in front of the class reading "Too Many Pumpkins" out loud to the second-graders. The children listened, enraptured, as he described how water, seeds and soil can sometimes create an overwhelming fall harvest. Then they eagerly shot their hands up to answer his questions about the lessons of the story.

It was quite different from Williams' usual workdays as president of The Survis Group, a professional services and consulting firm. On Tuesday, he was Principal for a Day at Gwin Oaks Elementary School.

Along with more than 40 other local professionals, this week Williams had the chance to see the inner workings of a Gwinnett school.

"This is energizing. I may be exhausted tonight, but it's been a great experience, a humbling experience," Williams said.

The aim of the program was to build partnerships between schools and prominent members of the community. These could range from financial contributions to mentoring programs for students. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce partnered with the school system to recruit members to participate. For many of them, the experience changed their perceptions about what it's like to be a school administrator.

"In many ways, they have similar responsibilities to the CEO of a company," said Berney Kirkland, executive director to the superintendent. "We thought it would be interesting for them to see what it's like, the rewards and also the challenges of being a principal."

Though she doesn't have any children of her own, being Principal for a Day at Five Forks Middle School was still a wonderful experience for Sheila Adcock, spokeswoman for the Emory Eastside Medical Center.

"Everything about education is so fascinating, so I've just been interested by everything we've done," she said. "It's fun!"

Five Forks principal Mary Hensien was impressed by Adcock's performance as Tuesday's principal. As students passed her in the hallways or saw her in classrooms, many of them enthusiastically waved to Adcock. She had told them to "give me a wave" when she was introduced on the school's televised announcements.

"She's got a heart for people, a passion for people, so she could be a great principal," Hensien said.

The visiting principals observed a variety of classrooms, including special education and English for Speakers of Other Languages classes. They also toured the school's facilities, attended meetings, did morning school bus duty and even sampled the cafeteria food.

"What I wanted (Williams) to see is not only what a principal does, but what is a typical school day," said Jean Payne, principal of Gwin Oaks. "I wanted to give him an opportunity to interact with the students."

This is the second year Gwinnett County Schools have had the Principal for a Day program in conjunction with American Education Week. While 31 schools participated in 2004, the number rose to 48 this year. Participating companies included Longhorn Steakhouse, the Winfield Realty Group and the Gwinnett Community Bank.