This summer, three Reston public schools will lose principals to retirement.
South Lakes High School Principal Bruce Butler, Hunters Woods Elementary Principal Olivia Toatley and Terraset Elementary Principal Ellen Cury are planning to retire after the school year ends.
“Our three wonderful leaders are leaving their schools at an amazing level of success,” said Cluster 8 Superintendent Fabio Zuluaga, who represents the three schools. “Our main job is to make sure we find leaders that can continue to build upon the solid foundations already in place. ... We see this change as an opportunity for our new leaders and our rising stars to take the schools to new levels of achievement.”
Zuluaga said it is not unusual to see three principals within the same cluster retiring at the same time. Cluster 8 includes 25 schools in the Oakton, South Lakes and Westfield high schools pyramids.
Only at Terraset Elementary has a replacement for the outgoing principal been named. Cury will be replaced by South Lakes High School Assistant Principal Lindsay Trout. South Lakes and Hunters Woods still are searching for replacements, according to school system administrators.
Hunters Woods Elementary
Toatley, 62, just completed her 40th year as an educator. She began her career with Fairfax County Public Schools in 1971 as a first-grade teacher at Camelot Elementary in Annandale.
“I think it’s time for new things in my life,” she said. “It’s just time for someone with new ideas and new energy to come in.”
Toatley was the first person from her family to go to college. Her love of education, she said, stems from her interactions with children.
“My psychology is students can achieve at the highest level as long as they have someone who believes in them,” she said. “There’s nothing like when you see a child get something.”
Hunters Woods third-grade teacher Marcia Paulson said she first met Toatley in 1998, when Toatley served as her mentor.
“When she was a teacher, she made a point of shaking her students’ hands each morning and afternoon, and asking them to say, ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon.’ I adopted this practice with my own students,” she said. “I always think of Mrs. Toatley and how she connected with her students, both as a teacher and a principal.”
Cury, 61, also has been an educator for 40 years, with 34 of them spent in the county school system. She has served as principal of her school for 10 years.
“This whole transition is difficult for me,” she said. “I’m going to miss the kids. I’m going to miss the teachers and staff. … It’s a good time for me to retire. I’ve put in 40 years as an educator. Our school is in a good place right now.”
Cury’s background is in special education.
“I always felt that I wanted to support those children who needed a little bit extra,” she said. “That’s what drove me to education.”
Terraset reading specialist Bettina Forman said Cury’s passion for helping those who need additional support shows in her interactions with students.
“She has great enthusiasm for adopting programs and finding resources to improve our school and help children,” Forman said. “When I started as [a] reading specialist with her, our reading scores needed improvement. In short order, she sent me for training to be a Reading Recovery [a comprehensive literacy program] teacher and we’ve been a Reading Recovery school for six years, not dropping this excellent program, even as schools around us dropped it because it is expensive and time consuming. Our school is a model for other schools that want to implement [this program or similar ones].”
South Lakes High School
Butler, 54, began his 34-year career with the county school system as an Earth and environmental science teacher. He has been at South Lakes for 14 years.
“I’ve almost always been in high school,” Butler joked. “I went to college for a few years, but I’ve always come back to high school.”
As a high school principal, Butler said he works long days and weekends with the goal of visiting as many student events, such as sporting events or performances, as possible.
“I don’t think it’s something you can do forever. It’s the most engaging and rewarding job you can do, but it’s all-absorbing,” he said. “After seven years [as principal] I just feel it’s time to redirect my energy.”
Heath, Physical Education and Driver Education teacher Sheila Colbert Alzate said Butler is well respected among the teachers, students and parents that make up the South Lakes High School community.
“His best feature is that he is a people person,” she said. “He works to create relationships with all those who are in the South Lakes community. He is also a mentor and role model for appropriate behavior and demands that from students and staff… [Y]ou can frequently see him outside the building watering flowers, picking up trash and overseeing the quality of care that takes place …
“Although we all understand his need to retire and move forward in the next phase of his life, it will be difficult to imagine life at South Lakes without his caring spirit.”