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What does a manufacturing operations director have in common with a middle school principal?
A lot, if you ask Mark Autry of BD in Sumter.
Autry spent Thursday at Ebenezer Middle School tagging alongside Principal Marlene DeWit as part of Sumter School District's Principal for the Day program.
He arrived at the school near Dalzell at 7:45 a.m. to a "warm welcome" in the gymnasium, he said, took part in a fire alarm drill, toured math, social studies and other classes and saw first-hand how discipline issues are resolved.
Autry said he appreciated walking a mile in DeWit's shoes.
"It was really interesting because when we went in this morning, she included me in the whole day," he said. "It was the people side and then the academics. School days aren't all rosy and bright and everything. You run into things, and you got to talk about it, deal with it, and I told her, 'You know, that's not much different than my day as a professional manager.' We make blood needles at BD and have a lot of technology there. But a good part of my day is still spent dealing with people issues and interaction issues."
At noon, Autry and DeWit joined the district's 24 other Principal for the Day participants and the real-life principals for a luncheon in the Crestwood High School Fine Arts Center.
Autry said he was impressed by seeing students work in a team environment - "that's what we do in manufacturing," he said - and was fascinated by how Ebenezer social studies teacher Laura Burleson matches popular contemporary music songs with lyrics that teach world history lessons.
"The thing that I thought was brilliant about that is she's finding things the kids are passionate about that might not otherwise trip them off in education," Autry said. "But now, all of a sudden that one kid was dancing like crazy, but he's learning at the same time."
Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox opened the luncheon by telling the local business and community leaders in attendance that she appreciated them taking time out of their schedules to help the district's children and that the schools "always have open doors" for positive role models.
This was the ninth year the district has put on the Principal for the Day program, which is a nationwide event, she said.
EMS-Chemie Human Resources and Safety Manager Paula Smith, who shadowed at Kingsbury Elementary School, said the half-day event was a good reminder for her to give back to the community, and she felt "very privileged" to have the opportunity.
Cedric Kirkman of the Sumter Police Department toured Millwood Elementary School with Assistant Principal Dana Williams. His observation was that it takes a lot to be a school administrator, from dealing with teachers and kids to health issues and potential emergency situations.
"It takes someone special to do the job that you all do as principals and assistant principals," Kirkman said. "I thank every last one of you in here today for the job you have done and will do in the future."
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