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Clayton Schools welcomes 72 community 'principals'

Despite fighting crime every day, one of Clayton County's top prosecutors admitted that she found a new level of fear on Tuesday morning — a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Quality Assurance Review team.

As a community ‘Principal Partners for A Day' at Mundy's Mill Middle School, Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley said she had to sit in on meetings between the school's administrators, and SACS officials, who were doing a school-level accreditation review.

She said education acronyms, that she did not understand, and academic performance data figures, were flying left and right, in the meetings.

Afterwards, Mosley recounted her experience to other community principal partners, and Clayton County Public Schools officials, during a luncheon at Clayton State University.

"For all of you non-educators in the room, let me tell you something — SACS is scary," Mosley said.

Mosley was one of 72 elected officials, business leaders, and general members of the Clayton County community, who served Tuesday, in the first-ever "Principal Partners for A Day" event, which was co-sponsored the Clayton County Public Schools system, and the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President, Yulonda Beauford, said there were so many people who wanted to be "community principals," that Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and his area superintendents each got their own community principals. Even after that, she said, there was still a waiting list of people who wanted to be one, but could not, because of a lack of space.

"It was outstanding," Beauford said. The response we received from the principals, and the business partners was phenomenal. No one could believe it would work this well, because it was our first year, but we had so much support."

Beauford said it was important to have programs, like "Principal Partners for a Day," in place, because "when the issue of SACS [accreditation] came up a few years ago, we learned how the school system can affect economic development ... Education goes hand-in-hand with the success of the county."

Chamber of commerce Education Committee Chairperson, Lee Fincher, told participants, at the luncheon, that the idea behind "Principal Partners for a Day" was not to get community leaders to visit schools for a one day deal. She said the goal is to get the community "principals" to stay involved in the schools throughout the school year.

"We're asking for one day, plus one year," she said.

Heatley echoed those sentiments, telling participants "do not let the door hit you on the way out. Let them hit you on the way in."

Several actual principals, and their community principals, said the one-day administrators shadowed the real school leaders, and did everything they did. They said the work ranged from school walk-throughs, at 7:30 a.m., to making sure students, teachers and staff were at school on time, to meeting with accreditation officials, to doing employee performance reviews and classroom observations.

Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services Director, Cathy Ratti, said she learned "there is nothing typical involved" in running a school, during her tour of duty at the school system's special education alternative school in Jonesboro, the Flint River School.

She said the opportunity to shadow Flint River School Principal, Gwendolyn Jones, let her see the "passion" educators have for working with children. "Students, teachers and staff members were approaching her, and she handled them one, one," Ratti said. She added that partnering with a school principal for a day is helpful, because it allows community leaders to learn what is going on in the school system.

Several principals, and community principals, said the experience was mutually beneficial for them.

Charles R. Drew High School Principal, Gary Townsend, said he and his community principal, Jim Crissey, senior vice-president for Southern Regional Medical Center, used it as an opportunity to discuss ways the hospital can help enhance the education offered at the school.

"We talked about, with our food services lab, having dietitians from the hospitals come in and speak to our students, or partnering emergency workers and our health occupation program," Townsend said.

Cheryl White, a claims adjuster for the Clayton County government's human resources department, said she learned about leadership shadowing Kendrick Middle School Principal, Steve Hughes, for a morning. She said it was helpful for her, because she is currently participating in the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Clayton program.

"He empowered his teachers, through the way he acts," White said. "He sets the tone, and expectations for the school, and all of the teachers and students feed off of that."

Overall, the community "principals" said the experience was an eye-opener for them as they got to learn what it takes to make a school operate every day.

Several community "principals" said they had no idea principals did everything, from memorizing school data, to learning the names of hundreds of students, to making sure the school is in order before classes start every day, to providing leadership and guidance to pupils and teachers.

"They were just on point, and everyone was working together as a team," Mosley said. "I had a high level of respect for them before this, but it just went to a whole new level."