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New Principal Gets Head Start at Lake Anne

Linda Hajj makes community connections.

Wild Thing, a crazy-haired but shy sock puppet character, appeared for the first time last week on the student morning news program at Lake Anne Elementary School. Wild Thing’s message: It’s not always easy being the new kid on the block.

Linda Hajj, the hand behind the puppet, can relate. Hajj, 56, who takes over as principal at Lake Anne on July 3, can’t wait to get to know students, staff and parents. But she’s not wasting any time. “I want to be ready by day one to have a very effective learning environment,” said Hajj.

AFTER BEING notified about the position in early May, Hajj has already introduced herself to the school’s PTA, attended several school events and found time to co-star in the student news program — all while maintaining her duties as assistant principal at Herndon Elementary.

Looking forward to joining the community, Hajj said she is thrilled for the opportunity to take the reins at Lake Anne.

“The community has been nothing but warm and friendly and positive,” said Hajj, who brings to the position nearly 30 years of experience in education.

In 1992, after 15 years as a teacher and administrator at a bilingual school in Kuwait, Hajj started with Fairfax County Public Schools as a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Dogwood Elementary in Reston.

“I feel like I’ve come back home. I loved Reston and I started there,” she said.

HAJJ REPLACES acting principal Laura Shibles, who has been at the school on an interim basis since late last year.

Shibles took over for Michelle Padgett, who took a leave of absence in September 2005 after a controversial petition initiated by parents asked for her resignation. Parents lost confidence in Padgett last year, when for the first time Lake Anne failed to meet test standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

While Lake Anne has begun to calm down after last year’s turnover at the school’s helm, Hajj is confident she will steer the ship in the right direction. “For me, it’s a new beginning. I would like to move forward,” she said.

Hajj added that her primary focus will be high academic achievement for all. “I want to celebrate learning, recognize what’s right and highlight good citizenship,” said Hajj. “Every student comes to us with brains, but we get to develop their minds.”

STARTING IN JULY, Hajj will oversee summer school at Lake Anne and hopes it will give her a head start in getting to know the community. But Shibles said Hajj is already doing a great job of reaching out to the community. “She’s doing a lot [on that],” said Shibles. In addition, Shibles said Hajj is very positive, friendly, upbeat and supportive.

“Several of our staff worked with her when she was summer school principal for Hunters Woods [Elementary School],” said Shibles. “They are already passing on the word on how good she is to work for.”

Others who have worked with Hajj feel the same way. “I think she is going to be a wonderful principal,” said Helene Brower, former principal at Lane Elementary where Hajj worked as the assistant principal. “I enjoyed every minute of every day working with her.”

Brower, who now is an employee performance coordinator for FCPS, said Hajj had a great rapport with students. “At Lane they were very fond of her and sought her out as a resource,” said Brower.

In the last few weeks, according to Shibles, Hajj has been closely involved with filling open staff positions, including assistant principal, which Hajj says should be decided by the end of June.

Hajj said she plans to continue Shibles’ positive momentum. “My motto is TGIT, Thank God It’s Today,” said Hajj. “Everyday is a new chance to move forward. All my energies will be spent making sure Lake Anne is the best school possible,” said Hajj.