Principal Joe Dana, right, leads an assembly at the Casmalia campus for Orcutt Academy Independent Study Program on Wednesday while accompanied by Mark Steller from Old Town Market. Steller shadowed Dana for Principal For a Day.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In a very short time Wednesday morning, students sang to Mark Steller, he participated in an assembly, trotted a lap around a school building in Casmalia and raced to another campus in Los Alamos.

That was a brief snapshot of Steller’s duties when he served as Principal For a Day alongside Joe Dana, who leads Orcutt Academy Independent Study Program, Olga Reed Elementary School in Los Alamos and Orcutt Academy. 

“It’s just great to get reconnected to school,” said Steller, owner of Old Town Market in Orcutt. “I just think it’s important to volunteer.”

Steller and Dana were among 38 pairs of community members connected to principals in the Santa Maria Valley on Wednesday for the annual event organized by the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The pair visited the Casmalia campus where Orcutt Academy Independent Study students learned about an upcoming walk-athon.

Steller has toured the empty campuses before, and said it was completely different seeing rooms filled with students and teachers.

“It turns a building into a school,” he said. “The kids just have this tremendous energy. You can just feel the energy in the building with kids in the school.”

The Casmalia campus houses students who participate in the independent study program, which includes a homeschool option plus a blended alternative that comes with classroom lessons for kindergartners through eighth-graders.

“It’s really nice to get together as a program to have an assembly because we don’t always do this,” Dana told the students. “And I really value having all the kids in our program together at once. It’s really really cool.”

With Steller by his side, Dana told the students about the walk-athon on March 23, a chance to help their school, cheer on classmates and teachers, and see teachers and the principal walk around and sweat.

Funds collected from the event will go toward assemblies for the school, sports equipment, teacher grants for classroom supplies, and a new water cooler, as students “oohed” in unison.

“How many of you like ice cream?” Stella asked, before taking his first action as principal — offering a gift certificate for free ice cream at his store to students who submit pledges.

“If you don’t get a pledge, you don’t get ice cream,” Steller told the students.

After spending time with principals at the campuses, participants united at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge for lunch and camaraderie plus entertainment by the Santa Maria High School Jazz Ensemble.

Principal For a Day has been held for approximately 25 years with some schools having a waiting list.

“It’s been a great program. Everyone’s having a lot of fun with it,” said Eddie Murray, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

Both public and private schools participated in the event with temporary principals, including lawmakers, business leaders and community members.

Deb Jeffers from the American Cancer Society Relay for Life spent her morning at Delta High School in Orcutt.

“I had the best day ever,” Jeffers said of her visit to the Orcutt campus where the spent time with students, teachers and staff. “It was amazing.”

Mike Gibson, administrator at the Andre, Morris and Buttery law firm, told the lunch crowd about his time with Principal Gabriel Solario at McKenzie Junior High School in Guadalupe.

“I had just a fabulous time,” Gibson said. “It was really great.”

During his time at the campus, Gibson said, he observed the principal handle a disciplinary problem involving a disrespectful student.

Afterward, Gibson said he learned the boy had lost his father a year ago, as the principal pointed out the importance for school staff to know about students’ situations at home. 

“Because they do affect what goes on in the classroom and how they learn …,” Gibson said. “That was a lesson well learned for me today.”

Danny Hutchinson, a sales representative for Josten’s, said he was excited to participate in the event and get a chance to see campuses from the viewpoint of educators. 

“To see it in action, to spend just a few hours with you guys, has been quite an honor,” Hutchinson said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.