Guest Principals Stage a Friendly Takeover

The agony of a skinned knee. The victory of an aced quiz. An unprecedented 320 business and community leaders saw it all. They took over local schools recently as Principals For A Day in Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill and Avalon. Led by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who served as the school district's first Superintendent For A Day, they contributed the business community's largest investment of time and energy that schools have received in a single day. Each school had at least one guest principal performing one of California's most demanding jobs -- helping students, staff and parents get through a normal school day. The diverse mix of leaders from small and large businesses, non-profits and the public sector gathered for a lively debriefing at the Long Beach Hyatt. After being entertained by student vocalists, cheerleaders, instrumental jazz musicians and a literacy rapper, participants shared their snapshots of life in California's third largest school district. "I was so amazed that at every school I went to there was such an emphasis on literacy," said Knabe. "I was very impressed, though I also noticed that the district seems to be busting at the seems. More space is needed, except for at places like Cabrillo. It was a beautiful school. It was like going to school in Palm Springs." Sponsored by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the third annual Principal for a Day helped to create lasting, beneficial relationships and new partnerships between business and education. "When you step into a school, you quickly learn its strengths and needs," said Mike Murray, external affairs manager of Verizon and co-chair of Principal for a Day. "Business people recognize how important schools are to our workforce and economy. They want to lend a hand, and this is the hands-on way to do it. The more that business people know about our schools, the more they can help them." Guest principals visited classes, attended faculty meetings, served as guest speakers, supervised lunch and observed hundreds of successes and challenges of school life. They were impressed by several new construction and renovation projects. The 97,000-student district is growing by about 2,000 students each year and is working quickly to accommodate increased enrollment by building new schools and modernizing older ones. Leading the friendly takeover of schools and offices was Supervisor Knabe, who shadowed the school district's new superintendent, Chris Steinhauser, as he visited eight schools. Other participants included state senator Betty Karnette; KNX news anchor and KTLA reporter Frank Mottek; Tom Dunehew, manager of Boeing's International C-17 program; Jean Smith, chairperson of the Bixby Land Company; Marva Stewart, chief wharfinger for the Port of Long Beach; Terry Harbour, Long Beach fire chief; Jack Hinsche, managing partner of the Windes & McClaughry accounting firm; Kry Lay, president of the Cambodian Association of America; and Tracy Moreno, Los Angeles Superior Court judge. "I spoke with a student who said she wanted to become a lawyer, and I invited her to come on down to the courthouse," said Moreno. "She said, 'Can I?' and I said yes you can, it's open to the public. I'd be willing to have tours of the courthouse and speak with schools. When I was in school, I had never seen a woman judge, a woman lawyer or a woman police officer. I didn't understand that these options were available to me, so I am happy to share my experiences with today's students." Here's what a few other Principals For A Day had to say about their experiences: Tom Dunehew, manager of Boeing's International C-17 program: "I was pleasantly surprised by Wilson High School. The school was well run. The students seemed happy. The teachers keep them busy. You can tell there's a certain, positive chemistry there. Everybody's doing a good job." Terry Harbour, Long Beach fire chief: "Things have changed so much in the 40 years since I was in high school. The printshop is now the computer graphic arts room. I was also impressed by the curriculum, the literature. I didn't get that kind of material in high school. The academics are on the way up. I know the bar has been raised. It gives us hope for the new generation." Marva Stewart, chief wharfinger for the Port of Long Beach, and a Poly graduate: "I'm ecstatic. The kids at Poly High School just seem to have so much pride in their school. I have so much respect for the administrators. You can tell they're a team. I admire the job they're doing. I wanted to stay." Joe Esquivel, Vice Mayor, City of Lakewood: "I'm very impressed with the science lab at Riley Elementary School, and the new principal, Dwight Prince, was absolutely great in showing me around. I had no idea the students were learning computers at that age. I was so impressed with the way the kids were handling the computers." Dennis Noesen, Physician, Long Beach OB/Gyn Group, and a Lakewood graduate: "As a physician, whenever I see women whose kids I've delivered, guess what they want to talk about? Their kids. And guess what's most important to them? How their kids are getting educated. Everything I saw today confirmed my belief in our schools."