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In Search of New Principal for Hughes Middle

Parents and staff learn the process of selecting the next person in charge of the school.

Parents and staff at Langston Hughes Middle School had an opportunity last week on Wednesday night to discuss the process under which the new principal will be selected. The position was left vacant after Deborah Jackson announced she would be taking over at McLean High School.

"It has to be someone who really loves kids," said Joan Burkhart, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president, about the future principal. Burkhart said the school’s diversity is what distinguishes it in the Reston area. "It has to be someone who appreciates diversity," she said. Burkhart said the right candidate from her perspective is someone who will seek and encourage parents’ involvement.

The right candidate from the faculty’s perspective should have another set of qualities and experience. "We want a principal that really wants to be here," said Elizabeth Benedict, chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC). For the past seven years Benedict has been teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages at the school. Another preference is for the new principal to have at least some teaching experience. The right candidate, said Benedict, will be visible. "Someone who gets to know the kids and supports the teachers," she said. Benedict also added that the school’s population is diverse, with a large minority population and students who come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

LANGSTON HUGHES’ first assistant principal, Doug Rice, presented the process under which the new principal will be selected to a group of about 50 parents and teachers. Rice said there are two possible processes for a candidate to attain the position.

In the first, more common, process, an eight-person panel would be formed from parents, staff, community members, a veteran principal from another school and the cluster director to interview candidates and recommend the right candidate for the position. The cluster assistant superintendent is going to recommend one candidate for the division superintendent to interview. If the candidate passes the interviews, School Board members are contacted for approval and then the position is offered. The panel interview is set for July 23.

"Yes, it takes a couple of months, but a lot of people look at the candidate before he or she walks through the school’s door as principal," said Rice.

The other process involves a lateral transfer for principals of other middle schools in the county. The steps are the same in the process, but the order is different. The panel performs its interview after the School Board members are contacted. Rice said the only way Langston Hughes would start the school year without a principal is if the position has to be advertised again.

One of the issues raised by some parents is that there is a need for the parent representatives on the panel to come from a variety of backgrounds, in order to represent the school’s diversity. More than socioeconomic backgrounds, the variety should include parents of students with different interests.

"If I get three people [recommended for the panel] who just represent the GT center, that’s going to be a problem for me," said Betsy Goodman, assistant superintendent of Cluster VIII.

Burkhart said she liked the outlined selection process. "I think it’s a good process. I like the fact they ask for parent input and there are parent representatives" on the panel, she said.