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Letter: What We Want in a Principal for SLHS

Give us a leader with these qualities.

Dr. Zuluaga,

If past practice is any guide, you knew who was going to be the next principal at before Bruce Butler The job's wired to some crony of someone at the FCPS Central office (Gatehouse) and this whole exercise is a charade.

Surprise us.  Do it different this time.  

I had four children go to South Lakes High School from 1996 through 2010.  That covers the tenures of Bill Harper, Railly Rodriguez and Bruce Butler.
Please appoint a person as head principal at South Lakes who will give us some leadership because I didn't experience any leadership from any of our head principals at South Lakes during that entire 15 years one of my kids was there.

Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at a skill.Give us a leader with 10,000 hours of actual teaching experience in a high school classroom.  That's eight years of HIGH SCHOOL classroom experience.

As summarized in a recent National Geographic article, the brain sciences have made enormous strides in the past decade to help us better understand the development of the adolescent brain.  Give us a leader who has done significant post-secondary study of adolescent cognitive, psychological, social and emotional development.

When South Lakes was redistricted, the Hunter Mill School Board member, Stuart Gibson, promised that the community would revisit the choice between IB and AP. That never happened.  Either in 1999 when IB was first imposed on Reston or since.  Give us a leader who will make good on that broken promise.

Give us a leader who listens.  They don't always have to agree with us but they ought to be ready, willing and able to listen to parents, students and faculty and find a way to satisfy as many of those stakeholders as possible and give legitimate, honest explanations when they can't.

Give us a leader who loves high school students and is not afraid of them, either individually or as a group of 2,100.

Give us a leader who is not afraid to admit that they make mistakes; and that their staff makes mistakes; and that Gatehouse makes mistakes.

Give us a leader who attracts enthusiastic, engaging teachers to SLHS and not one who induces those teachers, the best teachers, to leave.

Give us a leader who demonstrably cares as much about the C student headed to NVCC or the workplace as they care about the IB diploma candidate headed to UVA.

Give us a leader who has NOT spent their entire career with FCPS being inculcated in the "Fairfax way." A different perspective always improves one's vision. 

Give us leader who would never think of referring to the teenagers in his care as "morally corrupt."

Give us a leader who would never eliminate the All Night Grad Party and throw out the ANGP equipment.

Give us a leader who would never defy Title IX with impunity.

Give us a leader who can address a senior by their correct first name.

Give us a leader who would not tolerate an Assistant Principal harassing female students - for seven years.

Give us a leader who would never write that the SLHS student body was "dominated by gang activity."

Give us a leader who would never allow three years to elapse without sending a condolence note to the parents of a SLHS student who had committed suicide.

Give us a leader who Reston can rally around.

We know what such a leader looks like.  We've had them in Reston.

Give us a leader like Carol Bradley. Give us a leader like Debby Jackson. Give us a leader like Dave Dalton.

After 20 years, Reston deserves the best that a "world class" public school system has to offer.

 

John Farrell

Reston

Greg Brandon May 11, 2012 at 09:24 PM
John, I agree with you that Debby Jackson is a fine leader, but you can't have her. Sorry. You've outlined an excellent list of leadership qualities to which I would add: Give us a leader who immediately creates an atmosphere of trust. Its a risky prospect and I can almost hear the reaction of some people who practically condemn trusting leaders as naive. The thing I've found is that leaders who engender trust create successful organizations. Certainly, trusting leaders get burnt occasionally but if she or he is a confident leader, things will work out. (I'll admit that a long memory is helpful.)
Reston Mom May 12, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Great letter, great comment -- one more thing to add: give us a leader who has read and fully understands the implications of the book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Read it, understand it, and use it to guide policy decisions. Chapters include how (and how NOT) to praise, talking about race, why kids lie, the science of teen rebellion,and others. It's like a "Freakonomics" for raising children and it is eye-opening.
Seahawk Dad May 12, 2012 at 03:24 PM
John, this is a very thorough list and strong commentary and as a parent of a SLHS sophomore with one more on the way, my concern is absolutely focused on the future and not any indictment of the past. Where we will have to disagree is your implication that Bruce Butler has not done a good job at South Lakes. I have met Bruce several time, have seen him in action with the kids, and have seen how the environment he has created has made South Lakes a wonderful environment so far for my daughter. I have also met ALL of my daughter's teachers, and while it's a mixed bag, many of them have outstanding credentials and unbridled enthusiasm for teaching. We'll leave the IB vs AP debate for another time as there are valid differences of opinion on the subject, but that has not impacted the quality of the overall education my daughter is getting.
John Farrell May 12, 2012 at 08:41 PM
It would be a truly ill wind that blows no one no good. Out of 2100 families, some are bound to be satisfied. One way to know what you want is to identify what you don't want. Know that several of those "things we don't want" refer to Butler's predecessors. IB negatively impacts the variety of the courses available to students. FCPS prohibits IB schools from offering a full list of AP classes. IB requires a minimum list of courses to be taught at IB schools. Thus, other courses are crowded out and kids are placed into IB classes by default. IB requires 5 years of foreign language. A requirement many 8th graders never hear about. Less than 10% of SLHS kids pursue the diploma. When kids drop out of the IB diploma track, they have to take a freshman social studies class in their senior year. Mixing freshman and seniors is rarely a good idea. IB charges FCPS more than AP. IB should be an academy program and not the only option for the 90% of kids at SLHS who aren't pursuing the IB diploma.
John Farrell May 15, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Got another one: Give us a leader who is so well in tune with the student body that using a video camera to spy on kids would never cross their mind!
Connie Hartke May 17, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Thanks for the book suggestion!

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