Joint Base Andrews


Andrews members experience life as school principal

By Margo Turner | Capital Flyer staff writer | January 26, 2007

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- Six servicemembers at Andrews had a close-up view of a day in the life of a public school principal in Prince George's County when they participated in the Fourth Annual Principal for a Day program Jan. 18.

"It was an outstanding experience for me," said Col. James Vechery, 89th Airlift Wing vice commander and participant in Principal for a Day at Surrattsville High School in Clinton, Md.

Colonel Vechery said much has changed since he graduated from high school 23 years ago. However, what hasn't changed is the dedication he saw in the school staff and the students.

Leadership is important, whether a person serves in the military or as principal of a school, he said.

A caring atmosphere is equally important, which was evident as Colonel Vechery accompanied Principal Alice Swift-Howard throughout his daylong visit at Surrattsville High School.

As the colonel and principal walked through the school, Ms. Howard would occasionally stop to hug a student and talk with them. "It's that personal touch that is very important," said Colonel Vechery.

Shadowing another principal at Benjamin D. Foulois Elementary School in Suitland, Md., gave a young Airman a new perspective about educators.

"I wasn't aware about what principals do behind scenes," said Airman 1st Class Kellen C. Byers, 79th Medical Operations Squadron Aerospace Medical Service technician.
Colonel Vechery, Airman Byers and the other Andrews participants were among 190 business, community and government leaders who participated in the Principal for a Day program. They arrived at their assigned school before the start of the school day and remained until the final bell.

The volunteer principals joined the normal workday schedule of their assigned school principal and observed the scope of the principal's daily responsibilities.

Colonel Vechery participated in the morning and afternoon school announcements, in addition to accompanying Ms. Howard as she made her rounds.

The colonel also joined the principal in a collaborative planning meeting, in which science, social studies, math and English teachers discussed ways to improve the proficiency of students in these core areas of study.

Additionally, the colonel spoke with students in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the high school, attended an induction orientation meeting of the National Honor Society and visited a special education unit for autistic, blind and mentally and physically impaired students.

Colonel Vechery was able to experience a broad spectrum of a principal's responsibilities at the school.

While Ms. Howard and the colonel were ordering their lunch in the cafeteria,the principal received a call on her portable radio about a student returning to the school after a yearlong expulsion. The colonel and principal left the cafeteria to handle the student matter.

Another incident involved the theft of a student's jacket. The principal instructed the school staff to contact the student's parents and the county police.

Airman Byers accompanied Principal Veronca L. Richardson as she made her rounds of the school. Meeting with students and teachers along the way, he helped Ms. Richardson with assemblies school announcements.

"A student came up to me and said, 'Can you be our principal for the rest of the week?'" said the Airman. "I guess he didn't realize it was close to the end of the week."

Ms. Richardson said she had Airman Byers sit in on a collaborative lesson meeting with a representative from the Maryland Department of Education. The meeting focused on a science lesson plan for a sixth-grade teacher.

"I think Airman Byers felt comfortable in assisting me and being with the students," said Ms. Richardson.

What principals do essentially is giving to others, said John E. Deasy, Prince George's County Public School superintendent, during a reception for the volunteer principals at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, Md. The reception concluded the daylong program.

There is little time for school principals to think about themselves, said Mr. Deasy. School principals must be concerned with their students, teachers and staff.

"So there is very little time for a meal," he said. "There is very little time to sit. There is often very little time to collect thoughts. That's what makes the role so special, and what makes the people in that role remarkable human beings."

Mr. Deasy said the 190 volunteers in the Principal for a Day program served in 170 public schools. Many are parents of students in the county school system who were able to witness the daily successes and challenges of principals.