Community leaders find out it’s not easy to be a school principal — even for a day

Daily High School principal Lonny Root, right, walks the campus with principal-for-a-day Tara Peterson, executive director of the YWCA of Glendale. Peterson experienced school life by visiting classrooms and speaking with staff and students as part of the annual event.
(Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press)

After participating in Glendale Unified’s 27th annual Principal for a Day event, accountant Alex Parajon said he’d be keeping his day job.

Although he described his experience as guest principal at Horace Mann Elementary — which he attended 30 years ago — as amazing overall, he said it was clear that the job done by the school’s actual principal, Rosa Alonso, is challenging.

The day began with Alonso personally shepherding children without umbrellas through the rain to get to class on time, he said.

“You saw today what the principals do in short little snippets — it’s a lot of work,” Gregory Krikorian, school board president, told attendees during a luncheon following the districtwide event that gave community leaders an opportunity to lead a school for a day.

Glendale Unified does a lot with fewer funds compared to some school districts in other states, Krikorian said. For example, the local district receives $8,500 annually per student from the state, compared to $20,000 a year for public schools in New York, Krikorian said.

That money covers education, safety and less-obvious expenses, such as utilities.

The figure breaks down to $3.20 an hour for Glendale Unified’s educators, according to Krikorian.

Despite the challenges, guest principals unanimously reported positive experiences and said they respect the men and women they were filling in for.

Architect Michael Pinto described “such a culture of joy” at R.D. White Elementary, where he shadowed principal Lisa Kaprielian.

At Toll Middle School, Dignity Health’s Eileen Kwan said it was clear that principal Thomas Crowther “not only knew each student’s name but the stories behind each name.”

Describing how her own teenage mother was unable to complete her high school education, Tara Peterson, executive director of the YWCA of Glendale, said she was touched to see that Daily High School, an alternative school, provides on-site day care for young parents.

“[The district] is committed to making sure all kids have an opportunity to succeed, and sometimes you have to create different environments for that to happen,” said Peterson, who works with vulnerable populations, including domestic violence survivors and their children.

With a 2016 state law requiring schools to talk about healthy relationships and sex education, Peterson said part of her day was dedicated to discussing opportunities for the YWCA to participate in Daily’s curriculum.

Then there’s the academic work.

Echoing others, business attorney Alex Bruno said school work has come a long way since his youth, when everything “seemed like it was in 2D.”

Students are no longer just facing a chalk board but collaborating, he said.

Gary Shaffer, the new director of Glendale libraries, was taught coding by an astute third-grader at Cerritos Elementary, a school that specializes in innovative technology.

In addition to learning and having fun, “[the kids] are getting prepared with 21st-century skills for 21st-century careers, and we often don’t even know what those careers might be,” Shaffer said.

Following the luncheon, guest principals participated in a commencement ceremony, receiving a “diploma” for their work.

Launched in 1992, the local Principal for a Day program has hosted about 600 professionals from both the public and private sectors, according to a Glendale Unified statement.

This year, roughly 30 individuals participated in the event, sponsored by the Glendale Educational Foundation.

Twitter: @lila_seidman