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Principal Selection at West Potomac Moves Forward

Parents and teachers look for answers.

Rumors are flying and fingers are being pointed. Parents are not taking the news about the departure of Eric Brent from West Potomac High School lying down. They have made phone calls and sent letters to Dr. Brad Draeger, acting school superintendent, and School Board Members. They have started a petition saying that they are “outraged by the manner in which our community has been treated by the administration of FCPS in their decisions regarding the future of our children and the stability of our neighborhood.”

To show their support for the faculty, parents lined up outside the school on Monday, waiting for the cluster office representatives to arrive for their meeting with the faculty.

“I feel betrayed and angry,” said Jackie Hertz, PTSA treasurer. “A year ago, somebody asked Mr. Brent if he could be fair to West Potomac and he said ‘yes’. He led us to believe that he was committed. Maybe while he was here, but not now. They mishandled this from A to Z. Calanthia [Tucker] needs to go.”

While parents had hoped to show the signs outside the main entrance, they were told they were not allowed to protest on school grounds. A couple of people were allowed to stand outside the cafeteria holding signs, while others were allowed to post selected signs on the cafeteria walls.

Most of the signs showed support for the teachers, saying “We love our West Potomac teachers;” “Our faculty deserve everything” and “We love our teacher, staff & students. Does FCPS?”

The ones not allowed to be hung were the two signs made by Tewkie Klemmt that said, “Three Principals, Four Years. West Potomac is not a testing ground.” and “Wanted: New Cluster Director. Dr. Tucker, return to Mount Vernon with Mr. Brent.”

Klemmt said, “Tucker has to go. She’s too close to the situation. You can’t tell me it’s not a conflict of interest.”

Klemmt was referring to Dr. Calanthia Tucker’s prior tenure as principal of Mount Vernon. Tucker commented on that objection when she addressed the faculty; it was one of four rumors she commented on. Addressing the fact that she liked Mount Vernon [High School] better because she had been principal, she said, “I was also an assistant principal at Fort Hunt High School when it was closing down. I saw the agony of the transfer and have a close relationship with WPHS. As cluster director, it is important to be impartial and I have supported both schools.”

Another rumor she talked about was the fact that people felt that West Potomac was a practice place.

“When we interviewed for Henry Johnson, the people submitted to me were the top of the panel. At that time, the school was looking for a strong, instructional leader. and that’s what we looked for. At that time we provided you with what you needed,” said Tucker. “When Mr. Johnson left [as principal of West Potomac], you asked for somebody who had an open-door policy, somebody who was a listener and a healer; we gave you that with Mr. Brent.”

Addressing the rumor that she’s the reason for Mr. Brent leaving, she said, “I don’t have the authority to change the process nor did I have the authority to tell him to change schools.”

Finally, she answered the question about why MVHS knew about Brent’s move before WPHS by saying, “Our Cluster Coordinator, Barbara Leibbrandt, told Mr. Brent that it was extremely important to talk to West Potomac first. It was never our intent for him to talk to MV before WP.”

BRENT CONFIRMED that he had that conversation with Leibbrandt, but that he never had a chance to schedule the meeting with West Potomac faculty, because his Wednesday morning meeting with Mount Vernon was not confirmed until Tuesday evening.

“I could have sent an e-mail to the staff, but I felt that was inappropriate. I needed to make an announcement,” said Brent.

He does continue to assume responsibility for the decision to leave, but said that there was not a deliberate plan by him to come to West Potomac for one year and leave, as some have suggested.

“There was a vacancy, I put my name in, followed the process and got the job,” said Brent.

Dan Storck, Mt. Vernon District, Fairfax County School Board member, said that he had several conversations with the cluster office where he said, “We need to make sure we have good communication.”

In looking back at how it transpired, “I’m not happy with the way the [cluster] staff handled the announcement.”

An excerpt from a letter sent to the WPTSA by Storck said, “. . . I am seeking and so far have been receiving strong support from the FCPS Leadership Team to be onsite to address staff and student concerns, commit to recruiting a top-notch replacement, finalize the academic mentor we have been discussing and properly support the new principal at the cluster and department levels so that s/he stays a long time. This latest leadership vacuum must be resolved quickly and with the confidence of the West Potomac community before graduation takes place and the school year ends. . .”

WHATEVER THE FACTS, people are wondering why the cluster director is not taking the high road and assuming the blame for the delayed announcement. They also want to know why somebody higher up has not been more visible. Draeger did meet with the administration this week, but Storck said, “I’ve asked Dr. Draeger to meet with the teachers at school. I think it would be helpful for them to ask questions.”

A representative from Draeger’s office said that he has been busy with the announcement of the new superintendent, and that he would comment on the situation this week.

Only about a third of the teachers attended this week’s faculty meeting which was intended to explain the principal selection process. Several of the teachers who did attend sat on the back side of the presentation to protest.

Klemmt said, “The teachers are thinking, ‘here we go again’. There they [Jeff Arwood, Barbara Leibbrandt and Dr. Tucker] are again. And here’s the PowerPoint presentation. I feel so badly about the teachers. Nobody is there for them. It’s just a bad situation.”

Lynne Egge was one of the teachers who attended the meeting. Egge, who was involved with West Potomac long before she became a teacher there, said, “I’m mad as hell. I feel like we were used. There is a problem with longevity at this school; nobody’s been here longer than four years.”

Egge said that Brent’s departure really came as a surprise, adding, “We started off divided and never had leadership to be united. We need cohesiveness, but I don’t know what they can do to keep people. I feel we’re getting dumped on, like we’re second-class citizens.”

As much as WPTSA president Phoebe Mix and incoming president Diane Brody want to move forward, they do believe that there is a problem with the system and suggest that the county look at revising the transfer and contract policy for principals in the future.

“I think we need to move forward and resolve to commit to satisfying the staff. The PTSA is working hard on that,” said Brody.

Mix said, “I believe until they change the lateral transfer process that there will be no way to change the policy [of teachers moving]. And there’s no way to make somebody stay unless the process is changed.”