Rima Vesilind has been a high school band director, a sixth-grade teacher, an assistant principal in the Lee pyramid and a principal at Woodley Hills. She is now coming to West Potomac to take over as their new principal.
"I think she's going to be good. This is her swan song, an opportunity to do something that's a cap of a good career," said Brad Center, school board member from Lee District.
Because she's not looking to advance further and doesn't plan to retire for 5-6 years, Center feels confident that she will be dedicated to West Potomac.
"I'm going to high school; that's where I started," Vesilind said.
Janet Oleszek, at-large school board member, has known Vesilind for 30 years and said, "I think it's a brilliant choice. I think she will be the beginning of a Renaissance at West Potomac. She is one of the most creative, alternative thinkers; she looks at a wide spectrum of possibilities when she makes a decision. She's a go-to person and gets the job done."
Letters went out to West Potomac parents this week announcing Vesilind's position and she was introduced to staff and PTA members at a meeting Wednesday morning.
"We're so pleased to announce the new principal," said Dr. Calanthia Tucker, Cluster IV Director. "When I first met her in 1998 as principal of Woodley Hills, she had a sparkle in her eyes. Woodley Hills' achievement was down, morale was low and the community was not happy. Rima had the personal drive and energy and brought people together. She was the top choice of our panel."
Tucker added that Vesilind had received national recognition for her character education program and she was part of Governor Warner's PASS (Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools) program.
"She is very approachable and has boundless energy. She is highly respected by her colleagues at all levels. She has a strong commitment to the school and will achieve academic success, safety and unity," Tucker said.
VESILIND BEGAN HER SPEECH by saying that this area was the best-kept secret. She learned that when she came to Woodley Hills from Garfield
"The community is so strong. West Potomac has wonderful staff and excellent programs. My commitment is to the kids; we have to work together. There is so much potential here," said Vesilind, who plans to have an open door policy.
"I will be everywhere you need me to be. My job is to support you and help whatever way I can. Each job is important; we all have to pull our weight and more than our weight sometimes," she said.
When Mary Hellwege, parent and PTA board member, asked Vesilind about her background, she explained how she began her career as a band director in the Atlanta area. Vesilind said that when she moved to Hawaii with her family, there was no band position so she started teaching sixth grade.
"It was a steep learning curve," said Vesilind, who went on to teach in New York and Rhode Island. She went back to school to get her degree in administration, saying, "I saw things happening and thought, 'I can do this better.'"
She was the assistant principal at Garfield Elementary School before she went to Woodley Hills.
"Woodley Hills is a very diverse, and we took advantage of the richness," she said.
Concern about Vesilind making the leap from elementary school to high school has prompted Diane Brody, PTSA president, to draft a letter to parents stressing Vesilind's capabilities; it will be sent out this month.
"We're behind you, and know that this community needs to unite," Brody said.
"I'm not a new principal; I'm a good, strong leader," Vesilind said.
"THE ONE THING that stood out in my mind was that none of her staff left this year," said Rita Foss, West Potomac math teacher. Foss was on the selection committee and said, "Her biggest challenge will be proving that she can make that jump [from elementary to high school], but I've heard such wonderful things about her."
Center, who was involved in the selection process, said that there are many basics that don't change between the school levels.
"She has a sense of leadership and knows that she has a lot of work to do," said Center. She's not an in-your-face type of person, but she is strong-willed. She has an incredibly strong work ethic; not an 8-to-5er. She had all the qualities that we needed except for the fact that she wasn't a high school principal. Dan [Storck] and I both felt very comfortable moving forwardóshe was the best match for the job."
Transition and training, those are two of the things on parents' mind. Vesilind said that she will keep training time to a minimum.
"I'm a quick learner. My job is to be in the school."
Regarding transition, she met with Eric Brent [former principal] before she was even selected and then again this past Wednesday.
"I am taking information from [Henry] Johnson and Brent; I will accept their wisdom," Vesilind said.
She will be out of the country until July 12 on a previously booked commitment, but plans to spend the rest of the summer meeting with staff, community, parents and students. A reception will be held for Vesilind in the West Potomac High School cafeteria at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 19.