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Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway observes a classroom as she tours La Follette High School during the 2019 Principal Experience event.

For the past 16 years, Madison Metropolitan District schools have hosted dozens of visitors on a single day in October for a “Principal Experience.”

This year’s 17th iteration of the event, run by the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, takes place on Tuesday. While it won’t have the unfiltered view of how a principal spends an average morning that a normal year provides, FMPS executive director Melinda Heinritz believes it will still offer a “rich experience” for the 60 “principal partners.”

“It’s critical for community members to come in and experience for themselves what it’s like to run a school on a day-to-day basis,” Heinritz said.

Last year, 115 participants visited one of the district’s school buildings for the morning, guided by a building administrator, and then the entire group met for a lunch banquet at the Alliant Energy Center. This year, the Foundation has planned a two-hour program via videoconference.

“The biggest question for us is probably, what video platform and who runs it?” Heinritz said, adding that the district’s technical team has provided support, as the “wizard behind the curtain.”

She’s “thrilled” with the 60 people who have signed up, despite the drop from the event’s high last year. Given how much time people are spending online these days made it a real question how willing they’d be to spend two hours in “yet one more Zoom meeting.” She called it a “leap of faith” that people would still want to participate even without the in-person opportunity.

[Updated: MMSD will remain all virtual through Jan. 22, 2021]

The Oct. 27 event will offer participants a chance to hear from Heinritz and top school district officials, including superintendent Carlton Jenkins, during its first hour. Then, the group will break into four subgroups, one with each of the comprehensive high school principals, who will talk for a bit and then answer participants’ questions, Heinritz said.

“The goal here is to have a conversation with our school leaders,” she said.

The annual event serves as an opportunity to teach people about the schools, but also a “pipeline” for the Foundation’s Adopt-a-Schools program, donors and board members, Heinritz said. It also helps highlight the community’s influence on successful schools.

“If we want superb schools for all 27,000 students and 5,000 staff where indeed they all graduate ready for college, career and community and … are we a community where talented young people stay?” she said. "That is a responsibility of all of us, not just our schools and our principals. There’s kind of a cultural, philosophical importance to a Principal Experience.”

She’s also hopeful the virtual experience will inspire those in attendance to come back — hopefully next year — when the Foundation can offer the event in-person again.

“Nothing can replace in-person, we all know that,” she said.

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