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What does it take to run a school? Some local leaders find out.
Principal for a day
Local businessman Carter Patterson spent the day at Alliance Academy for Innovation on Monday as part of the Principal for a Day program. He is shown with Principal Brandi Cannizzaro. - photo by Alexander Popp

Over the last seven years, schools in the Forsyth County Schools district have taken a day out of the year to give outsiders an inside look at what it truly takes to run a successful school. 

Through the Principal for a Day program, business and community leaders have had the opportunity to take a walk in the shoes of the county’s top educators, learning, helping and exchanging ideas in a collaboration that potentially helps the entire district. 

At one of the county’s newest schools, Alliance Academy for Innovation, Principal Brandi Cannizzaro was shadowed by local business owner and chamber of commerce board member Carter Patterson.

During his day at the school on Monday, Patterson followed Cannizzaro on her daily routine, through meetings, on tours through the building, and into classrooms for observations with other school administration. 

Principal for a day
Carter Patterson, who is also a board member for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, watches as Alliance Academy teacher Jack Rogers works. - photo by Alexander Popp
“It was quite an honor,” Patterson said. “It’s our newest school. It’s so different from every other school we have in Forsyth County.”

According to Hannah Samples, communications facilitator with Forsyth County Schools, each year they hold the program as a partnership with the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, kicking it off with a celebratory breakfast in the early fall and ending with luncheon a month later.

This year, over the month of October and November, 40 participants visited each of the county’s traditional schools, including Forsyth County Commissioners Cindy Jones Mills, Dennis Brown and Laura Semanson, state senator-elect Greg Dolezal, and Family Promise of Forsyth County Executive Director Tina Huck.  

Patterson has participated before. He’s followed principals at Brookwood Elementary, Shiloh Point Elementary and South Forsyth Middle schools, but what really struck him about being at Alliance was the energy and passion of the students. 

“It’s great to see a school where every kid is vested in learning and every kid wants to be here,” Patterson said. “They start about 9 a.m., but there are kids here as early as 7:30 [a.m.] and they are all collaborating, they are all working on projects and they all want to be here.”

In one classroom, Patterson, Cannizzaro and other Alliance administrators sat in on student presentations about professionalism in a medical setting by acting out short scenes. In a criminal justice and law classroom, they watched students learn about Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by writing up an indictment for his murder.

Patterson said that he was not only amazed by the energy of the students learning these subjects, but the overall approach used to teach them.

“If you had to study both of those separately, it might be a little mundane and boring,” Patterson said. “You put them together and now kids are learning and are enjoying learning both subjects.” 

Patterson said that in his experience, this approach to learning is indicative of the quality educators that have been hired in the county, explaining that by starting with the best principals, they set themselves up to hire only the best. 

“If you want to know what our formula is for being the best in the state, I think it’s really pretty simple: Forsyth County hires the best principals in the state, who then hire the very best teachers to work in their school,” Patterson said. 

After the day was over, Patterson said that he had gotten exactly what he had expected out of the day: To make a real connection with the school, what they were capable of, what they need, and what he might be able to do for them as a business leader in the community. 

“The best part about this program is that I can see what the teachers are doing in the classroom … you can see what their needs are and maybe connect, you know, ‘Here’s some local businesses that might have some volunteers that can help or contribute money,’” Patterson said. 

Samples said that collaboration is exactly what makes the program so vital to the school district.

“Our schools are what they are today because of our business community,” Samples said. “And this is a great way to start that conversation and hopefully continue to build a partnership between the school and the businesses.”