Principal for a Day – BY IGONC President John Hill

Ever wonder what a school principal does with their days?

I thought I knew the answers, yet much of what I thought they did is the easy stuff.

Each year the Guilford Education Alliance hosts “Principal for a Day”, where community members spend the morning shadowing a Guilford County School principal.  I was assigned to Weaver Center, which is an Arts and Vocational focused high school near one of our businesses in Downtown Greensboro. The principal was not available due to recent knee surgery. I instead worked with the Assistant Principal, Whitney Sluder. Also present with us was an assigned elected member of The Guilford County Board of Education.

Our meeting was super encouraging and beneficial. I really believe I got the real deal as in no “put on” or false front. It was quite interesting at first, as the two ladies I was working with were shivering under multiple layers of clothing; “The thermostat is remotely controlled and we can’t turn up the heat” I was apologetically told. Not a big deal to them or me, yet those ladies were truly cold on a cooler and unseasonal  day for our area. Maybe it’s a seasonal adjustment thing I thought, and away we went with our conversations.

One of the concerns I had was regarding their current set up, where the vocational students had to take their basic courses at their home high school and be transported to Weaver for the technical classes. Much of the student’s school day was used up just getting them to the correct location. At Weaver, the Arts students can take all their classes at the one site, so they don’t use any of their day moving from campus to campus. I figured I wasn’t going to be that popular with my topic, yet what a surprise; I got huge support from the School Board member as she had a child who had experienced the transportation concern and had chosen to not take certain classes they had really wanted at Weaver due to this concern. She committed to following up with me to see how we may go about improving this situation.

We took a very intensive tour of the school stopping at all the various classes both Arts and Vocational. I spoke with several instructors who seemed very committed to their focus. I heard much about what some of the students were pursuing both in and outside the school. That very night the Drama Class was beginning their production of Dracula to which the community was invited to attend one of the four nights of presentations. Even though I seldom experience the desire to sit through a live play, I must say it was very tempting to come back for one of the shows.

The Arts students each must audition to be accepted for enrollment at Weaver. I hope I was heard when I suggested we do the same for Technical students, as far too often I talk with vocational and technical instructors feeling as though their classes are being dumped upon with some students who are just trying to fill out a schedule. Often there isn’t enough time in the school day for higher level technical classes as the instructors are overfilled with basic entry level classes.

Following the school visit, the Assistant Principal and I attended a luncheon at Embassy Suites where we joined numerous others from across the county who were participating in Principal for a Day.  Speakers from the Guilford Education Alliance and our Guilford County Schools’ Superintendent spoke. This is where things got interesting; I learned that the average teacher spends $650.00 of their own funds each year buying supplies for the classroom.  It was refreshing to learn how several businesses and community organizations have begun a teacher’s warehouse where each instructor can visit four times per school year to get the supplies needed that cannot be accessed through the school system. I learned straight from the Superintendent that she had already used over 65% of the school year’s budget for facilities and such with nearly eight months of the school year remaining. Before we left, each person in attendance was provided paper and an envelope for writing their representative of the Guilford County Commissioners regarding how much funding is appropriated to our schools. Everyone did this before leaving the event. The envelopes were gathered and forwarded to the correct representatives. I haven’t heard back from my representative yet.  I made it strongly known how not every student needs a four-year degree, and that we must quickly return to a more vocation optioned curriculum. We must allow the students to have options. With vocational education, at least they will have something to fall back on and pay off the student loans should their academic dream job never come to be.

When they got to the point of sharing how that in Guilford County Schools there are over 111 languages in use among the 73,000 students I began thinking my day was simple in comparison.  I learned that our school system is the 47th largest in the United States and is the 2nd largest employer in the county. Learning that one in four students would not have been able to eat that day were it not for the school system was very moving and eye opening.

I realize the focus of my articles has been apprenticeships and that remains the intent. I don’t think I ever fully realized what we can give these kids with the apprenticeships we are offering. We truly can change lives not only of students, but entire families and communities.  I know for sure we need to give our educators the credit they deserve for the job they do each day. My perspective has been rocked and in a good way. Hopefully you can get involved with your schools to help me with the process. I know it would be appreciated.