When John Porter walks through T.C. Williams High School, every student and teacher stops to greet him. He has an energy about him. When he sees a piece of trash, he stops to pick it up.
That's why he will remain principal for the upcoming school year.
Superintendent Rebecca Perry could not find a replacement, at least not now. In the end, none of the three finalists had the qualities needed to take on the job. Administrators expect to keep Porter as principal for the duration of the school year, but a replacement could be announced as soon as January.
"When we started the process, it was clear that I would stay on if nobody was hired," Porter said. "I enjoy working with kids, and I am excited about the upcoming school year at T.C. Williams."
The selection process will be reopened, and the three existing finalists will compete for the position along with all the other candidates. Vacancy announcements will be sent to local jurisdictions and advertised in educational journals. Applications will be sent to school divisions all over the commonwealth.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult to find good administrators," Perry said. "People who have these skills are in high demand."
Handling the process will be difficult at T.C. Williams. Construction will be at its most intense. Major changes to the curriculum are being implemented. Decisions needed to be made now, as the fall semester approaches.
THE PROCESS OF FINDING a replacement for Porter started in February, when the position was initially announced. By March, the Human Resources department on Beauregard Street was screening applicants. In April, a selection committee recommended three candidates to Perry, who recruited two candidates of her own. Eventually, the pool was narrowed to three.
But the time was not right.
"T.C. is a very special school, and it's a challenge to find a principal that will be able to take over in this environment," Perry said, noting that a wide range of candidates was considered. "In any search, you are going to get candidates who are leaving for reasons other than their own advancement."
For Perry, the most important part of making such a decision is the site visit, when she gets a chance to observe a candidate in action. This is when the real essence of an applicant becomes evident, and Perry was looking for the intangible qualities that make Porter a successful principal.
"You just can't fake that," Perry said, adding that a third site visit was canceled after that candidate bowed out from the process. "You can tell so much by how the school feels. When you are at T.C., it's clear what kind of leader John Porter is by seeing that the ways he engages the students and teachers. If there's a piece of trash on the floor, he will pick it up."
With the school year to begin soon, the candidate pool will reopen and Perry will start her search anew.
"We have talked with some excellent candidates, some of whom are still under consideration," she said. "I am confident that the right person will be found."