‘Principal for a Day’ Connects Community Leaders With Schools

In a world of budget cuts and underfunded classrooms, it’s nice to have a friend around. And for the Pasadena Unified School District, that friend is the Pasadena Educational Foundation.
And, in a true show of friendship, the foundation last week hosted its annual “Principal for a Day” program, during which local business and civic leaders spent the day at district schools learning about what really goes on in public education on a daily basis.
Bill Creim, board president for the foundation, said one of the goals of the program is to raise awareness about what goes on inside classrooms in the business and civic community.
“As we’ve done it each year, we’ve had more and more good candidates become the principals,” Creim said. “Many of them are not that familiar with public education. There are a lot of misconceptions. As they come to visit the schools and see the principals, they generally walk away very impressed.”
He added that while the foundation isn’t trying to supply everything for the district, the funds raised certainly do fill an important void.
“We just try to help and supplement with the additional things that the district otherwise wouldn’t have the manpower to provide,” said Creim, who added that some of the areas in which the foundation has recently assisted include new teacher grant programs, a summer school program and refurbishing a baseball field at Muir High School.
The day concluded with a luncheon at the Altadena Town and Country Club, where civil rights lawyer and activist Molly Munger gave the keynote address.
Munger, who is the founding co-director of Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization based in Los Angeles, said in her remarks that public education is not getting the attention it deserves when it comes to funding.
“We used to support it and we don’t support it the way we should,” she said.
While California many years ago was the top state in the union when it came to per-pupil funding, Munger continued, that hasn’t been the case for some time.
Patrick Conyers, executive director of the foundation — the oldest in California — said that despite the shortfall of funds, many in public education are still exceeding expectations.
“The reality of what’s happening in the schools is far better than the perception of what’s going on in the schools,” Conyers said.
He added that programs such as “Principal for a Day” give the community a better look at the success of public education.
“These are a lot of things the community can engage in with us as a way of helping the schools,” Conyers said. “Today, specifically, ‘Principal for a Day’ is a great way to connect the community’s resources with our schools, bring people with leadership capacity … and bring their expertise and interest to what’s happening in public schools.”
Marisa Sarian, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the district, agreed with Conyers, adding it is wonderful when the public can see education from an inside point of view.
“We open our doors to community members who come see what our principals do each and every day, see the diversity of our students,” she said. “It really gives community members a different lens to the district.”
She also said having community members present in the school is a wonderful thing for students to see, as those members can act as role models.
“We want to best prepare our graduates for college and the world of work and for life,” Sarian said. “We know that just us determining how ready they are isn’t enough. We have to really make sure the community is validating and is part of the educational process and is just being involved and assessing the skills of students.”
Anett Hill, a foundation board member who is on the “Principal for a Day” committee, said a program such as this is a no-brainer in a city like Pasadena.
“We’ve been doing this for 12 years,” she said. “Pasadena has a wealth of businesses and institutions that the schools can benefit from. Caltech does a number of things with various schools. The Tournament of Roses is very generous to us. Norton Simon, Pasadena Symphony — there’s no shortage. I call it a big little town.”
One participant in the program was LaWayne Williams, who was a “principal” at Norma Coombs Elementary School. Williams said he really enjoyed being around all the kids for the day.
“It was super exciting,” said Williams, who works for the Tournament of Roses. “I have a track record of working with youth, but not at the elementary level. Being there with all the little ones — preschool through 5th grade — I learned how much is on the plate of a principal.”

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