|Poe Middle School in Annandale.|
Five months after former Poe Middle School Principal Sonya Swansbrough was arrested for embezzlement, Fairfax County Public Schools officials met with Poe parents to explain the process for selecting a new principal.
In recent weeks, complaints have surfaced from Poe staff and parents about a lack of communication from FCPS about the future of the school, declining morale, student behavior problems, and reports that many teachers are planning to leave.
“I hope to get someone really reflective,” he said when a parent asked what he is seeking in a new principal. “We’ll need someone able to come in recognizing the circumstances are unusual, but not someone who says let’s erase all the vestiges” of the problems of the past few months. In general, when selecting a principal, he said, “I always look for someone who loves children, who really cares about the social, emotional, and academic well-being of youngsters.”
“This principalship is an important one—and just not because of the way it became open,” said school board member Sandy Evans, who attended the meeting as an observer. “The diversity at Poe is a strength, but the school needs someone who understands diversity here and can put Poe on a path to progress,” she said. “Poe needs a strong communicator who understands that different parents need to be reached in different ways.”
At the meeting, two officials from the FCPS human resources office—Michael Parker, an administrative employment specialist, and Michelle Webb, a coordinator for administrative employment—explained the role of a panel of Poe parents and staff in the principal selection process.
Only about a dozen people showed up at the meeting, which could be due to the lack of a sign at the front door directing people to the meeting location, which was in the lecture hall in the very back of the building.
Parker said the minimum requirements are three years of administrative experience plus four years of teaching experience. Beyond that, FCPS “will look at who is the best match for Poe.”
The one-week application period opens May 7 and closes on midnight May 13.
Applicants will be evaluated according to a matrix developed by HR with input from the Poe community. The top candidates—typically ranging from three to nine—will be invited to take part in an interview session before a panel consisting of three Poe parents, three Poe staff members, Tyson, and Cluster 3 Director Deidre Lavery.
Any Poe parents can submit input by May 12 via email to Parker, firstname.lastname@example.org, on these issues: the leadership skills a Poe principal needs, the administrative experience preferred, the leadership characteristics desired, school issues that need to be addressed, and school challenges to be met.
The panel will meet May 29 at the FCPS central office in the Gatehouse Administration Center in Merrifield. The candidates will bring a resume, cover letter, and writing sample to the session with the panel. Each candidate will have a 30-minute interview with the panel, with each candidate given the same questions.
The names of the panel members must be submitted to the Cluster 3 office by May 12. Poe PTA President Christiane White will submit six names of parents, and seventh-grade teacher Tiffany Graczyk, the school’s faculty representative, will submit six employees. Cluster 3 will select three people plus an alternate from each category, with the goal of ensuring diversity on the panel.
Panel members must keep the names of candidates confidential and cannot discuss what happens during the interviews or their impressions of the candidates. They can suggest follow-up questions to Tyson for the next round, along with their recommendations on which candidates should go forward.
Tyson will then conduct less-structured, more open-ended interviews with the top three candidates. The ones who survive that round will be interviewed by Superintendent Karen Garza, and the final decision will be made by the school board. Along the way, the HR department will check references and conduct background checks.
If no one is a good match, the position could be re-advertised. “We’d rather be patient and get it right,” Webb said.
If a veteran principal from another FCPS middle school applies, a different procedure is used, Parker said. Tyson would check that person’s references and evaluations and interview that candidate first. Garza and the school board would then interview the candidate, and if they believe that person is the best match for the school, the panel would be convened to conduct an interview and consider whether that person would be a good fit for Poe.
Tyson would also have the option of including a veteran middle school principal with the mix of other candidates. In that case, the panel would interview that person along with everyone else.
Tyson said it’s helpful to have reports on the candidates who aren’t recommended for the position because that provides feedback to them on how to improve their leadership skills.