As a veteran Principal for a Day participant, Scott Ballew said he liked seeing the wide spectrum of issues handled by school administrators.
Police Lt. Russ Mengel said he enjoyed getting to see schools from a different vantage point.
The two men were among dozens of participants in the 26th annual Principal for Day in the Santa Maria Valley on Wednesday.
Business leaders, elected officials and community members spent the morning on school campuses shadowing principals before gathering at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge for lunch.
The event was organized by the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“The purpose is to build relationships between our community, business leaders, industry leaders and our school administrators, just to give each party insight to the other’s world,” said Debra Hood, North County liaison for the Santa Barbara County Office of Education.
Mengel marked his first time at Principal for a Day, spending the morning at Battles Elementary School.
“It was interesting to see schools from a different perspective,” Mengel said.
He added that police typically focus on safety and security, so Principal for a Day allowed him to see the inner workings of a school and its principal.
“She’s a busy lady,” Mengel said of Principal Carlee Gruver. “There’s almost 900 children at the school. She knows the names of most of them. It’s so impressive.”
Mengel left with the intention of having officers visit schools more frequently to interact with students on the playground to build relationships.
Gruver said the children were enthusiastic about their temporary principal, eager to ask questions of the lawman.
“The common question was does he carry a Taser and did he have any stickers?” she said.
“I failed in both regards,” Mengel said.
“It was very nice to have him there, and he talked about some ways we can partner together with the school and the Police Department,” Gruver added.
Ballew, who spent the morning at Joe Nightingale Elementary School, estimated he has participated in Principal for a Day a dozen times at various campuses.
Nightingale Vice Principal Joe Schmidt attended the luncheon on behalf of Principal Julie Kozel.
“It’s great for the students to see community members walking around and hear about what they do and hear about different careers,” Schmidt said.
Ballew said he likes to participate “to be able to see the challenges that the administrators and the staff go through, to see rewards of the kids smiling and learning.”
His stint involved watching first-graders singing and seeing students’ participate in other lessons.
“It was everything I could do to keep my cheeks from bursting I was smiling so much,” Ballew said.
But he also got to see how school administrators handled a disciplinary matter involving a student and a plumbing problem on campus.
He added that he tries every year to figure out how to help the school after Principal for a Day, doing things such as supporting lessons on science, technology, engineering and math.
“Or just being someone there to say thank you for the work they do is really great,” he added.