Four Fairfax County high schools have vacancies at the principal position three weeks before the start of the school year.
Superintendent Karen Garza announced an overhaul of the school system’s administration in May. The resultant position shuffling throughout this summer caused three of these openings atop county high schools.
The school system has put its hiring process in high gear to fill the positions before students walk through the doors on Sept. 2.
Two principals, Jay Pearson from Marshall High School and Mark Greenfelder from West Springfield, were tapped in June to become executive principals as part of the reorganization.
The new structure, which took effect July 1, reorganizes county schools from eight clusters into five regions. Executive principals work at the region level, providing support to their region’s assistant superintendent.
South County principal Jane Lipp became assistant superintendent for student services on Aug. 1. Lipp replaced Kim Dockery, who was promoted to the newly created position of chief academic officer.
These vacancies came on top of two other principal openings at the high school level. Abe Jeffers of Lee High School left FCPS in May to serve as an administrator in the Richmond city school system; his position was filled in July.
Dave Tremaine, principal of Hayfield Secondary School, died of colon cancer in June. The school system is still searching for his successor.
While the openings at Lee and Hayfield represent the natural attrition the school system experiences on a yearly basis, the administrative overhaul added a new wrinkle to the well-oiled hiring process.
Typically, hiring a new principal takes anywhere from six to eight weeks, said assistant superintendent of human resources Phyllis Pajardo. For the three openings created by the reorganization, FCPS has accelerated the process to four to five weeks.
“From advertising the position to hiring a new principal, that is a really aggressive timeline,” Pajardo said.
Pajardo said the process cannot be too hasty because of the steps required for each principal hire. First, school officials meet with the school’s staff and community to engage them in the decision-making.
“Everyone can have a voice in the future principal for their school,” Pajardo said.
The school system solicits applications, then culls the top four to eight candidates from the pool and forms an advisory panel to conduct interviews. Each advisory panel includes three staff members from the school, three parents, another principal from that region, and the executive principal from that region. Advisory panels for high schools also include a student representative.
After the advisory panel, the top candidates will move onto an interview with the regional assistant superintendent. The assistant superintendent’s preferred candidate moves to a final interview with Garza before being recommended to the School Board for final approval.
“In a perfect world, we’d have all these already filled,” Pajardo acknowledged. Still, she said the school system is “in good shape” to have positions filled by last week of August.
“The art of dealing with a change like this one is to be flexible and open,” Pajardo said. “Movement can be a good thing, even when you have multiple things happening at once.”