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Program takes officials behind scenes at schools
Ann-Margaret Johnston of Johnston & Associates Inc. and South Forsyth Middle Principal Sandy Tinsley welcome students to campus as part of the principal-for-a-day program. - photo by Jennifer Sami

When there’s a fire drill, students file out in an orderly fashion.

The same students can produce their own morning show using real studio equipment. And when a lesson calls for a fun science experiment, that’s exactly what happens.

But these actions don’t happen on their own. It takes administrators, teachers and parents to make everything run smoothly.

“Sometimes there’s an image that things just happen and run,” said Todd Smith, principal of Midway Elementary School. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into making an environment where things function smoothly.”

That’s why this month a variety local business people got to spend a day as principal of a Forsyth County school.

“I wanted to see more of the back of the house and what it takes to make successful students,” said Torri Westmoreland, owner of In-Depth Wraps.

Westmoreland recently spent her day at Midway. As a mother of two school-aged children, she was at an advantage having been an involved parent. But her experience as an administrator was completely different.

“I think you are so focused on your own experience as a parent ... that you maybe don’t give enough credit to the other families that the administrators and the teachers are dealing with every day,” she said. “As a parent, this experience lets me step out of my own shoes for a minute.”

The principal-for-a-day program, organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce is more than just a glimpse into how schools are run. It’s a chance for businesses to see where their services can be used, said Ann Margaret Johnston of Johnston & Associates, Inc.

Johnston participated in the inaugural 2012 program, and as incoming chairwoman of the chamber wanted to make sure to return this year.

“It was such a great experience, and I’ve told so many people about it. It makes me realize even more how good Forsyth County schools are,” she said.

“The chamber is very involved in education, so it makes me really happy to see what’s going on in my community’s schools.”

When she grew up, there was no middle school. So Johnston said she “wanted to see what middle school was like.”

“When you’re as old as I am, you forget what it’s like to be that age and it was just really cool to see how things have changed,” she said while touring South Forsyth Middle.

The focus on technology was obviously the most drastic change since the principals had been students, but it’s also the opportunity, said South Forsyth Middle Principal Sandy Tinsley.

Students, she explained, have many opportunities to earn high school credits in middle school. And the access to real-life applications through business partnerships makes students that much more motivated.

“The learning they’re doing currently in middle school actually applies to a business world and that type of thing,” Tinsley said. “I think that’s a real good connection for the students.”

Johnston started her morning off before the bell rang, visiting the school’s fantasy football club before working hall duty as students poured in for class. There was a fire drill, tours and a lot of opportunities to talk with students and staff.

Westmoreland got to sit in on a meeting to offer input about the future upgrade of the elementary school’s media center. She also got to visit classrooms, take part in other meetings and participate in a science experiment.

Smith said it was beneficial for the business community to see the work that goes into running a school and “that we’re really trying to incorporate technology into everyday learning.”

According to Smith and other principals, reaching out to the business community has added to schools’ successes.

“I know a lot of people think of our business partners as just giving money, but there are a lot of them that give time, come in and work with kids,” he said.