Business leaders spend day in area schools

By Ashley Barker
Published Dec. 9, 2013

More than 30 Lowcountry business executives spent Thursday shadowing principals in local schools who were busy escorting students down the halls, calling the parents of those who needed to be disciplined and conducting observations of teachers.

The Principal for a Day program, sponsored by the Education Foundation, a Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce initiative, pairs business executives with school principals from Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. All of the teams from Berkeley County met for a breakfast on Friday at Charleston Southern University to discuss what they learned. Charleston County teams met at The Citadel, and Dorchester County District 2 and District 4 met at Middleton Place.

“Schools cannot do it alone. We need industry leaders to help us develop a curriculum,” said Rodney Thompson, superintendent of the Berkeley County School District. “One thing about being a principal is one day is never the same as the next. What I hope everyone sees in our schools is a building full of caring adults who love educating children.”

Alvin Johnson (standing), president and CEO of ATJ Engineering, spoke during a breakfast Friday about his experience at Berkeley Intermediate School. (Photo/Ashley Barker)
Alvin Johnson (standing), president and CEO of ATJ Engineering, spoke during a breakfast Friday about his experience at Berkeley Intermediate School. (Photo/Ashley Barker)

Alvin Johnson, president and CEO of ATJ Engineering, visited Berkeley Intermediate School with his own elementary school principal in the back of his mind.

“You never wanted to go to my principal’s office. He actually used the belt on some of the kids,” Johnson said.

When a student entered Berkeley Intermediate Principal Mike Shaw’s office, Johnson was impressed with the outcome.

“He interacted with him (the student) as if he were a young adult. I didn’t get that when I was in elementary school,” Johnson said.

Becky Bowers, a supervisor at Kelly Educational Staffing, said the principal at H.E. Bonner Elementary School taught her how she could focus more by removing a piece of office furniture.

“When I walked into what I thought was Natalie’s (Principal Natalie Lockliear’s) office, it was her office but it had no desk. She has a large conference table,” Bowers said. “She shared with me that she went to a conference and learned that your desk is a distraction.”

Bowers said she can use the techniques that Lockliear taught her in the business world when trying to focus and delegate work to other employees.

Jessica Jackson, who works in global corporate citizenship at the Boeing Co., said she also will take some concepts from school back to the corporate world.

After spending the day at J.K. Gourdin Elementary School with Principal Lorene Bradley, Jackson said she found herself trying to compare corporate America to the school system.

“The difference was the hugs. We don’t hug at Boeing. I don’t think I’ve got a hug in 20 years in corporate,” she said. “Ms. Bradley would ask her staff, time and time again, ‘How’s your day?’ ‘How’s your daughter doing?’ ‘How’s that hip feeling?’ She really cared about her employees. Having that family atmosphere at a large company can sometimes be hard to achieve. But the simple little things really make a huge difference.”

Chris Walker, franchise operator of the Summerville and Goose Creek Chick-fil-A restaurants, summed up his experience with Principal Luci Carter at Westview Primary School with one word: love.

“We spent most of the day telling heart-wrenching, heartbreaking stories about what these children’s lives are like before they come to school. I guess at some level, I knew that,” he said. “It challenged me to try to think about it from a business level. How do I support that? How do I help that?”

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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