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A Huge Hole to Fill at West Potomac

Principal takes job in Maryland

Teachers gathered Tuesday at West Potomac High School anticipating important news. Henry R. Johnson, Jr., principal at West Potomac High School, had asked them to come. Some knew what he was going to say; just as many did not.

His message was short and it didn't take long before everybody realized what he was saying. He would be leaving at the end of the year.

Johnson told those assembled that two and a half years ago, he had the honor to be introduced as their principal. He then said, "Everybody has to follow a dream. My dream is to be a founding principal."

He found that dream at Northwood High School, a new school opening in Montgomery County in 2004. He will assume the principalship in the summer, in preparation of the school's opening for the 2004-2005 school year. The school will open with a freshman class, and add a class every year. It will be Johnson's job to shape and mold into a model he dreams of.

Larry Jackson, president of the PTSA, said, "He has the autonomy to build the whole program and hire his own staff."

Johnson said that even though Northwood wanted him to start immediately, he told them that he wanted to stay at West Potomac through the end of year. He asked the teachers to carry on the "traditions of excellence."

He ended his remarks and then stayed around as teachers individually stopped to talk with him. Johnson responded to reporter's questions and said that he had been going through this process since December and was appointed in January. When asked if part of the reason he was leaving was due to his disappointment with the 4x4 rejection, he said 'yes' and as far as implementing the same program at Northwood, he said, "I think this will be the best thing for them."

JOHNSON DIDN'T KNOW what the procedure would be for finding his replacement. He said that would be handled by Cluster IV director Dr. Calanthia Tucker. She could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Bill Rhatican, history teacher, said that he was disappointed. "He was somebody who was interested in kids," said Rhatican

Regina Weems, dental teacher with The Academy, said, "We're losing an asset, he has really done a turnaround here."

Weems said she felt that West Potomac had been on the downslide before and now it's accredited. "I wish there was something we could do to keep him. Hopefully we can stay on the track we're on," said Weems.

ESOL teacher Nancy Indelicato said, "I feel like he started a lot of things. It would have been nice to have him here longer."

Another ESOL teacher, Rose Akpatai, said "He was great. I was here before. He came in and had total control of the children. Within weeks, he knew the names of the teachers and students. He was a disciplinarian, but the students didn't resent it. He held the teachers accountable and he was such a good listener."

Jackson said, "This is going to be a tremendous loss to us." Referring to the battles Johnson had with the 4x4 scheduling, Johnson said, "I know he wouldn't have been looking if he had the support of the community."