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Leadership Change at Groveton Elementary

New principal, assistant principal and PTA president take over.

Groveton Elementary School is undergoing a changing of the guard this year, with a new principal, assistant principal and PTA president all stepping in at once.

After about 15 years in the education field, Rich Pollio is in his first year as a principal. Most recently, he was the assistant principal at Waynewood Elementary School in the Fort Hunt area.

However, Lisa Demmel, who has been involved with the school’s PTA for the last few years and is taking over as president this year, said she thought it was Pollio’s teaching background that would make him an asset to the school. "He realizes what he’s getting himself into at Groveton," she said.

With a high percentage of students in the English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program and a high percentage receiving free or reduced-price lunches, the school presents certain challenges to teachers and administrators that all Fairfax County educators do not face, as both Demmel and Pollio pointed out.

After graduating from Stanford University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations, Pollio joined the Teach for America program, which places college graduates in needy school districts. "It was something I just wanted to try and see if I liked it," he said of teaching, noting that he liked working with people and had enjoyed participating in mentoring programs during college.

While teaching in the infamous Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles, Pollio took night classes to earn his teacher’s certification. "I really enjoyed my time there," he said, although he noted that teaching in the inner city did entail some difficulties.

After six years of teaching elementary school in Los Angeles, he attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education to earn his master’s degree. In graduate school, he said, he focused on courses in reading and literacy. "I wanted to be a better reading teacher," he said, adding that he had been particularly interested in teaching ESOL.

Pollio then went on to teach briefly in Miami and in Washington, D.C. before settling into Fairfax County Public Schools as an ESOL teacher at Belle View Elementary in the Huntington area. Pollio speaks fluent Spanish.

While teaching at Belle View, he said, he began to consider administration, so he took some courses and got his administrative endorsement through the University of Virginia. "You can really have a great impact on a school as an administrator," he said. "By coming up with new ways to improve the overall school program, you’re affecting every kid at the school."

Pollio said this year would be "a big learning year" for him, as he familiarizes himself with the school’s teachers, parents, students and community. To that end, he will hold meet-the-principal receptions for parents this Thursday and Friday. He said he has also met one-on-one with almost every teacher in the school over the summer.

After two years as the assistant principal at Mark Twain Middle School in Franconia, Shamarlas Allens is returning to the elementary school milieu as Groveton’s new assistant principal. Allens earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education and his education specialist degree in supervision and administration. He began his education career as the head special education teacher at Armstrong Elementary in Reston and then worked as an administrative intern at Providence Elementary in Fairfax before his work at Mark Twain.

"I enjoy working with students and families over a long period of time and seeing the progress kids make from kindergarten up to sixth grade," he said of his decision to return to elementary school. "My passion for working with students at the elementary level is where I get my true joy as an educator."

Demmel said she had not yet met Allens, who was just recently hired, but she said she and Pollio had been in contact since before Pollio began working at the school, when he called her to set up a time for PTA meetings so that he would be able to attend them. "He’s been good about keeping in contact with me," she said. He’s on the ball. He seems energetic and enthusiastic."

Demmel also noted that she had heard "rave reviews" about Pollio from teachers who had worked with him at Belle View. "I think he’s really going to be a big added bonus for our school," she said.