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Mike Taggart and Andrea Divijak paired together for the Marana Chamber of Commerce’s Principal Exchange program

Last Thursday, Nov. 14, 20 Marana business owners returned to school. 

As part of the Marana Chamber of Commerce’s Principal Exchange program, those workplace professionals shadowed 20 Marana Unified School District principals to learn their daily work routines, and form a connection between local education and business. The Nov. 14 exchange was a continuation of the program, the first half of which took place in July. 

“In July, the principals shadowed the business owners, but today, the business owners got sent to the principal’s office,” said Marana Chamber CEO and President Audra Winters. 

Among the day’s pairs were Andrea Divijak, principal of Dove Mountain CSTEM school, and Mike Taggart, plant manager at Johns Manville, a building materials producer. Divijak showed Taggart around the brand new computer science school, discussing the practices that keep the school running smoothly. 

“They get to see all the interworking pieces in the school; what we do, and what the kids do,” Divijak said. “And we get to hear how our local businesses get students where they need to be for their future careers.”

This is the sixth year Divijak has participated in the Principal Exchange, and the second year for Taggart. Not only did they get to learn about each other’s jobs, but shared tips on how to be mutually successful. 

“It was interesting to see how they’re running the new school to be successful,” Taggart said. “There are a few things I saw that we might try to bring into our business; they have these tube lights that bring in solar that would be good to check out.” 

The business/education partnerships formed during Principal Exchange extend even beyond the day’s pairs. In a previous year, Divijak had a student interested in pursuing a career in auto repair. Through the program, Divijak connected with an employee of Spectrum Auto Collision, even though she was not partnered with him. The auto employee was able to inform the student about how many computers are part of modern car repair.

“It’s not just working with your hands anymore,” Divijak said. “We now know what goes into those various fields, and we can talk to kids and say ‘hey, you’re great with cars’ or ‘you’re great at rebuilding your bicycle,’ but have to have those other skills too when you go into that workforce, because it’s becoming so computerized and technology-based. It helps just having an understanding of how we need to help our kids to transition from school into a career, whether they need to go into college to get there or through a trade or anything else.”

The Principal Exchange also showed the businesspeople, some of whom haven’t stood on a school campus in years, just how advanced modern schooling is. Devi Paolillo of Marana Mathnasium paired with Ardemis Martin, principal of Legacy Traditional School. During the visit, Legacy had a fire drill, and Paolillo saw that the teachers received information about the drill on their phones. 

For other visitors, the exchange was an opportunity to see how educational culture has improved since their school days. 

“I cannot believe how the system has improved, there’s a place for everyone in that school,” said Mimi Weber with Kiva Insurance, who visited Twin Peaks K-8 school . “I was very impressed at how respectful and organized and quiet the students are.”

For the first time, this year saw other school departments participate in the Principal Exchange. Staff from career and technical education, and gifted education joined in. 

“Being new to Marana, it was a great experience,” said John Burton, from the JP Burton Group, who visited Marana High School. “I haven’t been to a high school in probably 25 years. What I was most impressed with was the kitchen and welding classes. From an economic development point of view, there’s a shortage in the trades. And knowing the kids who don’t want to go to college can go out and get a high-paying job based on their training in high school is great.” 

Taggart and many other business participants say they are interested in participating again in next year’s Principal Exchange, if only to see more of the positive school communities around town. 

“I can talk about robotics and I can talk about training and all that, but the main thing I got from Gladden Farms Elementary was a real sense of community,” said Beth Brennan with Melaleuca. “These schools are definitely about more than reading and math. They’re about supporting students.” 

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