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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Parents concerned about leadership changes at Mason Crest Elementary School

Mason Crest
Mason Crest Elementary School has developed a great reputation under its much-lauded principal Brian Butler and assistant principals Diane Kerr and Sherry Shin.

But now that Butler and Kerr are leaving, parents are concerned that the school’s quality could decline if a new leadership team isn’t committed to the school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC) model.

Parents are encouraged to come to a meeting at the school Wednesday, May 31, at 6:30 p.m., to learn about Fairfax County Public Schools’ process for selecting a new principal.
Butler, the first and only principal at Mason Crest since the school opened in Annandale five years ago, is starting a new job July 1 in the FCPS central office as a coach and mentor for principals and their administrator teams. Kerr is retiring.

Shin is not eligible to become principal because she hasn’t been an assistant principal for at least three years.

Mason Crest is considered a national model as a PLC school, which emphasizes collaborative teams of teachers taking collective responsibility for all students. As Butler explains it, “our model adheres to the belief that the key to high levels of student learning is ongoing job-embedded professional development and learning by the staff. The PLC process is a never-ending continuous improvement cycle.”

Diane Kerr and Brian Butler [Mason Crest PTO]
The school has hosted more than 350 site visits with educators from across the United and States and as far away as Australia and Taiwan. In 2016 Mason Crest received the first-ever Rick DuFour Award in recognition of its success as a top PLC school.

“We want to make sure the county considers people who are well-versed theoretically, as well as practically in PLC,” says a former president of Mason Crest’s Parent Teacher Organization. “By every measure, including teacher satisfaction and test scores, the school is doing very well, Other FCPS schools say they have PLC, but Mason Crest does it better than anywhere else.”

“Mason Crest is an amazing place,” says Patrick Krason, who, while on the PTO board, is speaking as a parent. Butler, Kerr, and Shin have been a great team, he says. They show up at every school event and are active in the community. Butler has even been spotted shoveling snow on his day off.

An email to the Mason Crest community from parents Monica Buckhorn, Christy Fase, and Sandra Miracle calls it “crazy” that Shin isn’t allowed to interview for the principal position. While the authors of the email are on the PTO board, their message was sent from the perspective of concerned parents, not as an official PTO communication.

“We are also not sure if the job description will require the candidate to have experience working in a Professional Learning Community school – which seems like critical experience to have for a principal at Mason Crest,” the email states. “If we have any hope of maintaining the magic of our school we need to get Sherry at the helm!”

Fabio Zuluaga, the assistant superintendent for Region 2, confirmed that FCPS rules require candidates for principal to have three years of administrative experience and says, “Shin doesn’t have that.” She’s only been an assistant principal since July 2015.

“I don’t believe in having a predetermined candidate,” Zuluaga says, as that could raise “issues of preferential treatment, lack of equity, and lack of transparency. It’s important to follow the process set by Human Resources.”

The position will be advertised, he says, and an advisory committee made up of three teachers and three parents will invite about six or seven candidates for interviews. The committee will recommend two or three to be interviewed by Zuluaga and FCPS Interim Superintendent Steve Lockhard. The superintendent will make the final decision.

Zuluaga says he is confident that the right candidate will be selected and that Mason Crest’s next principal will be the “best person to continue the school’s tradition of excellence.” In selecting a principal, commitment to the PLC model will be a “major consideration.”

If the first set of interviews doesn’t result in the right candidate, FCPS could name an interim principal and re-advertise the position, he says.

And while Mason Crest is one of the most advanced schools in the use of PLC, Zuluaga says, other schools have successfully adopted that concept, including Belvedere, Sleepy Hollow, and Glen Forest elementary schools in Mason District. The principal selection effort will be led by Region 2 Executive Principal Jay Pearson, former principal of Marshall High School, which also had a PLC model.

Krason says he is happy for Butler’s promotion and that it’s a good thing for the school system if more principals can be trained in the PLC model. He hopes Mason Crest’s next principal will understand and be committed to PLC, whether it’s Shin or not. But since the parents already know Shin, she is their first choice.

He suggests that if Shin is ineligible, FCPS could name her interim principal for a year until she meets the criteria.

“FCPS is fairly responsive to parent input,” says the former PTO president. “So it’s important to show up at the May 31 meeting. It’s not a waste of time.”

FCPS is also accepting written comments by Friday, June 2, on the desired traits and characteristics of a new principal and assistant principal and what potential challenges will need to be overcome for Mason Crest to continue to thrive as a PLC school Comments should be sent to Michael Parker,   


  1. Wait, teachers like to work there? Can that be possible?

    1. A PLC is a very specific model and there are teachers that don't work well in it. That said, we'e lost very few teachers in these first few years and those that stay understand the model and reap the benefits for their students and themselves. As a teacher, I've never seen a staff fully commit to a model the way this school has committed to this model and that's the key to its success. Students AND teachers are well supported. No one is pushed aside or forgotten. Every member of the community is important and they know that.

  2. Two items were taken as actions by the county.
    1) they agreed to extend the end date of the announcement.
    2) HR agreed to review Shin's resume to see if there was equivalent experience to qualify for the third year of assistant principal.

  3. I do not have school age children as my son is grown and married. One thing that I feel strongly about is supporting the school. There are many families who have moved to homes in Broyhill Crest because of the reputation that Mason Crest has. Its presence and excellent reputation will continue to help our property values.