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Community members walk in the shoes of Burbank Unified principals

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Ward Smith, manager of Bluespace Interiors, standing center right, and principal Sandra De Barros, center left, talk to students at Jefferson Elementary School during this year’s Principal for a Day event on Thursday.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Eighteen community members took part in this year’s Principal for a Day event in Burbank Unified, which culminated with a luncheon at Buena Vista Branch Library.

At the luncheon, participants spoke about their experiences taking over one of Burbank Unified’s schools for a few hours Thursday morning.

The annual event gives participants access to the administrative operations of elementary, middle or high schools from touring through facilities to supervising recess to making speeches. The school district’s event made a comeback last year after a hiatus since the 1990s.

Linda Walmsley, a lifelong local resident and retired Burbank Unified teacher, with 48 years of experience, was a main supporter for the return of Principal for a Day and organized this year’s event.

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“Anytime we can involve the community in the schools, it makes them better. The goal of programs like this is to allow the community to get to know the quality of education in our city,” she said.

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Ward Smith, Bluespace Interiors manager, left, with principal Sandra De Barros, center, talk with third-grader Austin Salyers at Jefferson Elementary School.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Participants started their day at 9 a.m.

Ward Smith, manager of Bluespace Interiors, helped direct traffic at Jefferson Elementary with the school’s principal, Sandra De Barros. He took a tour, visiting classrooms and even helped deal with two students who had a “squabble” as he described it.

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“I’m impressed by the breadth of what principals have to deal with,” Smith said.

He was a Burbank Unified student attending Horace Mann Elementary, where Walmsley was his first-grade teacher. She invited him to the event.

“When Walmsley tells you to do something, you do it,” he joked.

He shared a story about how he recently hired a designer from Tennessee. The designer traveled throughout Los Angeles, but settled in Burbank because she said it reminded her of home.

“Burbank has a character, a sense of place. The schools are connected to that and it takes principals to do that,” he said.

Radio host Tim Conway Jr. shadowed Burroughs High School principal, Deborah Madrigal. He characterized Burroughs High as having a great reputation in Hollywood, especially in set decorating and the radio industry.

He toured the school’s auditorium, which is equipped with a full soundboard. He also visited a classroom filled with set-design storage, an engineering classroom that focuses on robotics and 3-D printing and a drama class taught by Guy Meyers — one of five educators named California State Teacher of the Year for 2020.

Madrigal, who has worked in high schools for 29 years, said many students get hired by studios right after graduation, and some students worked backstage at last year’s Emmy Awards.

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One of the highlights of the event at Burroughs was supervising a new addition to the schedule four years in the making⁠ — the Academic Excellence period.

Three days a week, for 25 minutes after the second period, students have a chance to prepare themselves for the rest of the day. Students with low grades are assigned to the class in which they’re struggling, while students with high grades have the option of studying in the library, the quad or group-work halls.

Other participants in Principal for a Day included Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer, Christine Rodriguez, a director at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, and Lucy Burgdorf, spokeswoman for Hollywood Burbank Airport.

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