Eric Brent is back home. After one year serving as principal at West Potomac High School, Brent returned to Mount Vernon High School.
Just one year after taking the helm at West Potomac, Dr. Calanthia Tucker, Cluster IV Director, re-introduced Brent to the Mount Vernon faculty.
"Dr. [Cathy] Crocker and I have mentored him and he's done an outstanding job. He's back where he began."
Most of the faculty needed no introduction as they waited in line to greet him, hug him and welcome him back.
"Mr. Mount Vernon has returned," said Larry Carpenter, building supervisor. "The teachers are all excited, he knows the school, and he's honest, treats you fair and is an all-round good person."
"I'm ecstatic. There's no man I respect more. We teachers know that Eric Brent knows and loves Mount Vernon. He's just what we need; just his presence will make all the difference," said Sharon Hollon, English teacher at MVHS. "People sent letters and emails. When the county asked for a description of a principal, my description was of Mr. Brent. He was the person who came to mind for everyone."
SO WHERE DOES that leave West Potomac? Many parents and teachers are upset by the decision and want to know how this could have happened. Tucker said that principals do not sign a contract to stay for a specific length of time and that there have been others who have left after a short time.
"It was strictly his choice; he had the support of Mount Vernon [parents and teachers]," said Tucker.
West Potomac parents didn't have time to react; by the time word trickled out that there was a possibility of Brent leaving, it was too late.
"With the departure of Eric Brent, West Potomac faces its third principal in three years. What a remarkable display of ineptitude by the Fairfax County School System and our elected School Board," said Rodney Smith, father of three students at West Potomac. "Frankly, the students and the parents deserve better. We are told by the School System that Mr. Brent wanted to return to Mount Vernon; if he thinks that is in the best interest of his career and his family, we wish him the very best and respect his decision.
"We are also told that Mount Vernon High initiated an intense campaign to persuade the school system to return Eric to their school. It was, in other words, an election with only one side participating. This is not good public policy and it begs an explanation," said Smith.
BRENT SAID THAT it was a very hard decision, and not one that was made because of things that have happened at West Potomac this year, which included the death of a student and the temporary leave of a teacher.
"Those things were devastating, but they can happen anywhere. People ask me, 'What did we do wrong?'" said Brent. "I tell them they were not to blame. It was a very tough decision and this is the only school [Mount Vernon] that I would have even considered leaving West Potomac for."
Brent regrets that the year he's spent learning the changes will be somewhat for naught. He will pass onto his successor notes that he's kept in his journal this past year of things he wanted to change. Those changes will now have to come from somebody else. Brent believes that person should be "someone who's going to continue to bring the community together."
"I'm sorry that I won't be able to make those changes," said Brent. "But how often do you get a chance to return to the school [as principal] where you graduated and were an educator? My family and I believed that the timing was right."
He said that it was not a planned move, as some people have thought. When he left MVHS to go to West Potomac, he understood that Crocker was going to be at MVHS another 3-4 years. There was no plan by the county for him to go to WPHS for one year and then return as principal.
BRENT MET WITH West Potomac teachers yesterday to tell them officially what they already knew — he was leaving West Potomac. Tucker said that she hopes to have somebody in place by the end of the school year. The principal selection process will proceed as usual; input forms will be distributed to students, staff and community. Human Resources will meet with the staff and students during school on May 24; they will meet with the community at West Potomac on June 2, at 7 p.m.
West Potomac's PTSA President Phoebe Mix said, "We would like to thank Mr. Brent for a good year, and wish him well as he pursues his career. We pledge to work with FCPS administration to secure a new principal who can lead the students, staff and community to greater heights. We, as a community, must work together to ensure that West Potomac High School moves forward in a united front for the benefit of all our children."
In the meantime, some faculty members are feeling letdown.
Bill Rhatican, history teacher, said, "I am disappointed that in the six years I've been teaching — all at West Potomac — Mr. Brent is the fourth principal under whom I've taught. But I am really angry that the county school officials, including our own Mr. Storck would establish West Potomac as a revolving door, a temporary resting place for administrators until they can find a better slot for them. What Dr. Tucker has done to the faculty and students at West Potomac is unconscionable. She didn't even have the guts to tell us before it was announced. As a 30-year resident of Waynewood, I am appalled at what the county has done to our community. In fact, the entire West Potomac community should be outraged at what the county school board continues to do to our young people."
Fairfax County School Board Representative Dan Storck knows that Brent's request to transfer to Mount Vernon High will be very hard on the West Potomac community.
"Mr. Brent is highly respected for his hard work, consensus building style and excellent people skills," said Storck. "However, in talking with Mr. Brent about the challenges of his youth and the critical role that Mt. Vernon High had in his personal development along with his over 10 years as an educator there, I came to understand that his being principal at Mt. Vernon was more than a job, it was his calling."