May 1, 2013

At Portland school, insurance exec becomes 'principal for a day'

The program, which began last week, pairs executives with Portland schools to foster collaboration among business and education.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – At Lyman Moore Middle School, teachers collaborate easily with other teachers. Children are encouraged to work on projects together. And the staff works in teams to better support teachers.

All in all, a good model for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Michael Burton, the insurer's regional vice president of sales, said that's the main lesson he learned – or at least had reinforced – on Tuesday, when he was "principal for a day" at the school: The more seamlessly various groups collaborate, the better the organization functions.

The "principal for a day" program, which began last week, pairs executives with Portland schools. The idea is to expose executives to the schools and give the schools insights that the business leaders can offer.

"We have a shared interest in developing the future engineers, the artists, innovators and future leaders who will move the city forward in coming years, said Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk, who developed the program in collaboration with the Portland Regional Chamber. Over the next week, 20 business leaders will be principals for a day. Some, like Burton, will be returning to old stomping grounds.

Burton attended Lyman Moore. While he was a student, the school converted from a junior high school for seventh to ninth grades to a middle school for grades 6 through 8, so he spent only two years there

Burton said he still laments giving up a year as a top dog at Lyman Moore for one as a lowly freshman at Portland High School.

As Lyman Moore's real principal, Stephen Rogers, led him around, Burton was struck by the changes created by a school renovation more than 20 years ago.

When Burton was a student, the school had no cafeteria so students walked to nearby Lyseth Elementary School for lunch. The old gym is now a cafeteria, and there's a new gym. The building was expanded and there's now a second floor that nearly doubles the school's size.

Burton said he was struck by how neat the school looks, more than two decades after the renovation. Rogers told him that the school encourages students to have a sense of ownership, which makes them take better care of their space.

Rogers also created a "house" system, forming teacher and student subgroups by grade level and subjects. It helps break down the size of a relatively large school -- about 480 students -- to a more manageable level, Rogers said.

Burton told Rogers that the best advice he could offer is to stress the importance of communication to students. In business, Burton said, he spends a lot of time in meetings and answering emails, so the ability to communicate well orally and in writing is required.

Burton said he was struck by a number of things about being a school principal, including how early Rogers was hit by questions, starting before the first bell rang.

"I thought I got a lot of questions" at Anthem, Burton said, "but I get a chance to sit down for a minute" before they start.

He was also impressed by the students' willingness to talk to Rogers, including asking who the guy was walking around with him. He wouldn't have approached his own principal so easily, Burton said, and it's a credit to Rogers and the school leaders that students feel comfortable going to them.

Burton was especially impressed by a Powerpoint presentation by one student in a health class, about a book on world foods. The student, he learned, had arrived from Iraq about a year ago and had already mastered the language well enough to read a book in English and present a detailed report to her classmates on the subject.

Burton was so impressed that he sought out the girl in the cafeteria to compliment her on her presentation.

 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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