Fifteen minutes before classes began yesterday, businessman Al Porter reported for duty as the honorary principal of DuVal High School in Lanham. Thomas Anderson, the real principal, whisked him into a closed-door meeting to hear a mother's concerns about her son's low grades.
Then the duo spun through the hallways to shoo loiterers and late arrivals into classes that began at 8:30. In that morning ritual, lasting nearly a half-hour, Anderson badgered several passing students to doff hats and hairnets in obedience to the dress code, display school identification tags, turn off cell phones and show permission slips for being out of class. He also showed Porter a wing undergoing renovation and a parking lot destined to become the footprint of a new building.
Later, Porter and Anderson popped into U.S. history and English classes and then retreated to Anderson's office while the first-year principal dealt with sensitive personnel matters via e-mail and telephone.
In more than 160 Prince George's County schools, executives such as Porter and others shadowed principals yesterday in an event meant to spur business involvement in a suburban school system with an uneven reputation.
"Here's a chance for us to work together, to have a better understanding," Porter said, explaining his visit as Anderson worked the phone. Porter, 43, an executive at an education and communications company, lives in Capitol Heights. He noted that he took time away from pressing deadlines at his Landover office to observe a 1,400-student school that lacks the academic luster of Eleanor Roosevelt High two miles west on Greenbelt Road.
DuVal was Porter's second choice for a visit, after Suitland High. But Porter said he was happy with the result because he wanted to see a school where his expertise might be useful. "I've got projects to [send] to Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kansas, California -- and I'm here," Porter said. "It's a commitment."
He said he would discuss ways he and other executives could help Anderson, a 34-year-old newcomer to Prince George's from the Montgomery County school system.
Last year, about 100 business leaders participated in the school system's first "principal for a day" project, targeting elementary schools. This year, more than 160 signed up, enough to include middle and high schools as well. In all, the county has 196 public schools.
Schools chief Andre J. Hornsby said the event helped teach school leaders about the business world and vice versa. "You rarely have businesses in the community involved at the level we're asking them to be involved," he said.
Hornsby said the visitors were given an unvarnished look at the inner workings of their host schools. "Things could be somewhat eye-opening," Hornsby said, "to give them the full picture."