Business leaders serve as principals for a day

LILBURN - Jodi Pierce got to work at 7 a.m. Monday, just as she always does.

But instead of opening the Buckhead branch of AlphaGraphics, the printing company she owns with her husband, she parked in the principal's parking space at Arcado Elementary School, ready to begin her stint as principal for a day.

By noon, she and Arcado's principal, Joe Ahrens, had greeted the students as they arrived at school, visited classrooms, attended a school council meeting and performed cafeteria duty.

"It's fun for me," said Pierce. "You get to see what is going on versus what they say is going on."

Pierce is one of 65 business leaders who are learning this week what it's like to be a school principal. Pierce also participated last year, acting for a day as the principal of Richard Hull Middle School. She said next year she'd like to spend a day as a high school principal.

While on cafeteria duty, Pierce walked around the room, squatting to talk to the students who were eating lunch. After she explained what she was doing at the school, she said the students would explain their "jobs" to her.

"I love kids," Pierce said. "The one-on-one interaction ... you don't get to do that in the business world."

The program, which is in its third year, is a partnership between Gwinnett County Public Schools and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

The program takes place during American Education Week because it's a good time for the business leaders and the students, said Gail Macrenaris, leadership and community development manager for the Gwinnett Chamber. Students are looking forward to the holidays, and the visits don't interrupt testing cycles, she said.

Participation has grown each year; last year, 48 people participated in the program. The goal in future years is to get a CEO into every school, Macrenaris said.

Ahrens said it's reassuring for schools to have the commitment of the business community.

"It puts my mind at ease," he said. "Our product is the product that will eventually be their clients. We've got to have their (the business community's) commitment and understanding."