October 11, 2006 - A group of girls formed a semicircle outside of the principal's office, took deep breaths and began singing in rounds.

A secretary offered to shut Marana High School Principal Jim Doty's door, so the teenage a cappella would not disturb him and his guest.

"No, leave it open," Doty said before turning to Paul Pecora, general manager of Comcast Cable in Tucson. "Do you want to hear the choir?"

The principal and the businessman stuck their heads out of the office and listened to the girls, each singing higher in pitch than the next. When the last girl in line closed her mouth, Doty and Pecora applauded.

"We had the band in here last time," the principal told Pecora. "What a great job I have. Kids come up and sing to me, the band comes and plays for me. I wish kids would sing to me everyday."

Pecora spent most of the day with Doty as part of the Marana Chamber of Commerce's first "Principal for the Day" program. In all, 17 Northwest business owners and employees shadowed principals at about a dozen schools in the Marana Unified School District on Oct. 3.

"To me, it's just being able to get together and figure out what our needs are," Marana Chamber Director Ed Stolmaker said. "It's a way to get principals together with the business community, but there's more that we can do."

Businesses can offer more internships and job shadowing opportunities to students, Stolmaker suggested. In turn, school officials want to keep a line open to business leaders to mine those internship opportunities.

District officials viewed the day as a way to inform the business community about its schools, as well as build relationships with the people who one day might hire Marana's students.

"The biggest problem students have is not knowing the possibilities that are out there," Doty said.

Doty taught marketing and other subjects at Marana High School, beginning in 1990. The 52-year-old became an associate principal and then two-and-a-half years ago assumed his position at the helm of the school, a far cry from his days managing a McDonald's.

Wearing an extra-long tie and trademark administrative suspenders, Doty arrived at his office about 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 4. He drank tea and did paperwork before meeting with a parent, a regular occurrence.

Doty, his Associate Principal Joe Hajek and the school resource police officer talked briefly about the recent rash of school shootings across the country, culminating in the gunning down of young girls in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Teachers, campus monitors and administrators should get together and discuss ways to keep the campus safe, Doty said.

"Just keep a closer watch on the gates, watching who comes and who leaves the campus," the principal said. "I don't think there's much else we could do."

After the briefing, during which several school employees ducked into the principal's office to grab mini chocolate bars set out for Halloween, Hajek excused himself to oversee lengthy suspension hearings related to student drug offenses.

Pecora followed Doty down hallways, into classrooms and out into the courtyard for lunch duty, surrounded by almost 2,000 teenagers. In the principal's office, Pecora peppered Doty with questions and even jotted down a few notes.

"I gave my visit some thought," said Pecora, who serves on the Marana Chamber's education committee. "It's critical our education system is preparing our students to meet the needs of our businesses in the future."

He asked about disciplinary measures, accountability and the high school's smaller learning communities, which continue to develop. Pecora and Doty discussed the partnership between the business community and schools at length.

This year, students on Fridays go out to companies and organizations to shadow employees, Doty explained. For the past few years, students have worked 20-hour unpaid internships at Northwest Medical Center, where they can watch surgeons at work. One student witnessed the birth of triplets and others have seen patients come in with flesh-eating bacteria.

Before lunch, the principal took Pecora to science teacher Lori Vargo's classroom, where the teacher discussed bad urine.

Dysuria means painful urination. Polyuria means excessive urination. If students find "non-floaters" in their urine, such as crystals and other sediment, that means bad news, Vargo explained.

Students could earn extra points if they urinated in a bottle and examined their own urine, the teacher added. "Peeing for points," she called it.

The slogan sounded too much like a fundraiser, one student joked.

Doty's shoulders bobbed up and down as he chuckled at the banter between teacher and student. Vargo never missed a beat. She stopped mid-sentence and stared at a student shaking his legs anxiously.

"Are you having a seizure?" she asked him. "That's not for two chapters. You can't do that yet."

Vargo teaches in the medical academy, one of several developed as part of the high school's shift toward smaller learning communities. Under the new system, students choose an academy after their freshman year. Whether they choose medical, fine arts or business, they still learn the core curriculum.

Students in the medical academy read Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" in their English classes. As part of the reading, the students document and research the many 17th century ailments mentioned in the novel.

Pecora seemed impressed by the high school's concepts of learning communities.

"I see this as an important way for students to make that connection to the subject matter, especially when they can join a learning community they have an interest in," said Pecora, a native of New York state, who attended a high school about a quarter of the size of Marana High School.

Continental Ranch Insurance Co-Owner Terri Winger shadowed Marana Middle School Principal Dave Liss, because her daughter will attend the school next year.

"I wanted to see for myself," Winger said about how the school educates.

Winger seemed surprised by the school's dedication to special needs students and the open relationship between Liss and his students.

"They want the kids to be well-rounded, both academically and socially," Winger said. "I couldn't believe how many kids said hello to the principal when he walked around."

After the visit, Winger felt much more comfortable about her daughter attending the middle school next year, she said.

Winger's husband and business partner Jim shadowed Coyote Trail Elementary School Principal Dan Johnson.

Marana's Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson spent the day at the Marana Career and Technical High School, an alternative school on Grier Road. Principal Lynne Prouty scheduled Bronson to observe two instructors per hour for three hours.

"Kids are pretty much the same everywhere - some are focused and others are just biding their time," said Bronson, who serves on the chamber's board of directors. "But the instructors were amazing. They appeared to be very open and supportive, but the boundaries were in place to help the students stay on track."

Watching kids fall off track hurts a principal the most, Doty said.

"Our job is to help these kids be successful, and there are kids that fall through the cracks," he said. "That's tough."

The Marana Chamber's education committee ultimately will decide if "Principal for the Day" will happen again.

Everyone who participated in last week's event filled out a survey. It seemed like most wanted to see "Principal for the Day" become an annual thing.

"I'd love to see the reverse, too," Doty said.

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