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Choosing South Lakes Principal

Parents want a voice in choosing the new principal at South Lakes High School.

About seven years ago, the last time South Lakes High School had to replace its principal, parents gathered to discuss their role in the selection process. Instead, a representative from the school system walked in and simply announced the next principal.

That new principal turned out to be Principal Rely Rodriguez, who transferred into the position from Pimmit Hills High School via a veteran principal transfer.

With the memory of having the rug being pulled from under their feet still fresh, South Lakes PTSA members were not about to let it happen again as the school system begins a search to replace Rodriguez, who announced last month she was leaving South Lakes for a special assignment in the human resources department.

About 30 members met Wednesday, April 20, to hear from and be heard by representatives from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), who came to the meeting to outline the selection process.

Kicking off the meeting, Betsy Goodman, the assistant superintendent who represents the South Lakes school pyramid and who was only able to attend the first 15 minutes, emphasized the role of the various stakeholders, including parents. “We’re here to assure you that you have a role in this process,” she said. “To assure you your role is a valuable one.”

Goodman said that she hopes to complete the process and announce the new principal in mid-June, just two weeks before renovation begins at South Lakes. The position opening was advertised April 20, the day of the meeting.

David Chubb, a principal selection facilitator for FCPS, presented a more detailed description of the process, which he said can go one of two ways: with a competitive and open process or with a veteran principal transfer process. Each pathway, Chubb said, is pursued concurrently and involves the input and participation of faculty, students and parents.

“I think our community is very skittish about that second [veteran principal transfer] process,” said Terry Jennings, who has a son at South Lakes.

OTHER PARENTS ALSO SAID they were upset by a lack of involvement in the last selection process. “I get the feeling that the last time this school had a change in principals, the process was short-circuited,” said one audience member.

“What you are saying,” said Chubb, “is that you would like a fully competitive process. But don’t tell me, tell Betsy [Goodman].”

During Chubb’s presentation, he explained that three parents will be part of a panel that interviews the first-round of top candidates selected for the position. From there, the panel will help narrow the selection to three top candidates to be interviewed and recommended by the assistant superintendent. Chubb also explained that the current process, which has been fully standardized, has only been in place for the last four years.

Yet, while the process is scheduled to take six to eight weeks, the due date for parent input was set for April 25, and the due date to submit the designated parent panel members was set for April 27 — all within the first week of the process.

Chubb urged parents to fill out input suggestion sheets to be given to the human resources department at FCPS or preferably e-mailed to peggy.dammeyer@fcps.edu.

Parents also took time to express other concerns about the process.

“I’m concerned about the job we’re going to be giving this principal right at this crucial time,” said Lisa Montague, referring to the impending renovation in July. Montague, who has a son in the 10th grade and daughter in the 11th grade at South Lakes, suggested that the renovation would make the next principal’s job particularly difficult.

“It’s obviously going to be an extra burden on this administrator,” said Chubb, a former elementary-school principal. “But I think you’ll see how little it affects the educational program of your school.

“[The renovations] could be a great opportunity to get involved in the culture of the school,” Chubb said.

Another parent said that South Lakes does not enjoy a shining reputation and asked if it was possible to assign the position an extra monetary incentive to generate a better pool of candidates. Chubb, who rejected the premise of the question, said extra money was not a possibility and that Fairfax County is a highly desired place to work.

FOR THE REMAINDER of the PTSA meeting, members discussed how they would select parent panel members. They also talked about the various groups that the parent panel members will need to represent. “We’ve got to come up with a way to get all these various groups represented,” said Cathy Alifrangis. Concerned about the high population of special-education students at South Lakes, Tom Stanley, who has two children at the high school, said that these students need their interests represented. Only five schools in the county have more special-education students than South Lakes.

“We need to come up with a way to get all these various groups represented,” said PTSA President Ridge Loux, suggesting that the panel be selected by parents who can best take in the concerns of others and represent them.