BY CAROLINE SELLE — This fall, Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) will welcome a new principal. Once hired, he or she will join a slew of other relatively new school administrators in the city: In 2014, University Hills Elementary, Northwestern High School, and Edward M. Felegy Elementary (which opened its doors that year) all received new leadership.
Former HMS principal Kimberly Washington announced her resignation at the end of the school year in a letter to students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Washington was hired in 2011.
“It is with mixed emotions that I am writing to let you know that I have submitted my resignation as Hyattsville Middle School principal effective June 30, 2015,” she wrote. “…In the coming weeks, I will transition as a mentor and coach to aspiring and sitting principals. I look forward to expanding my reach in the Mid-Atlantic region with the aspirations of positively impacting multiple schools in multiple school districts.”
Prince George’s County’s principal selection process is rigorous. At a June 23 community meeting attended by teachers, parents, and community members, Chris Mills, an instructional director for High School and Middle Schools in the county, explained the procedure.
“In the past, principals in our district were hired through an actual community interview,” he said. According the the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) website, the interview was conducted by “…a small panel of select community members [who] were allotted an opportunity to provide input into the selection of school principal where vacancies existed.” The new procedure, which PGCPS is following for HMS, “… was developed to broaden the input and provide a forum for all vested stakeholders ….”
A pre-screening helps PGCPS develop a list of eligible candidates in the rigorous process. Those candidates “… participate in various principal leadership exercises to further assist the committee in determining each candidate’s skills and abilities,” according to the PGCPS website. Next, a committee of PGCPS employees develops a candidate pool based on credentials, experience, and leadership activity scores. Associate Superintendents identify school needs and review candidate applications to determine who might fit best with each school. Only then are a select few candidates interviewed for the open position. After the interviews, the PGCPS CEO, Dr. Kevin Maxwell, makes the final selection and sends his decision to the Board of Education for final approval.
“It’s a very systematic, objective process,” Mills said.
At the June 23 meeting, community members highlighted several criteria they considered priorities in the hiring process.
Pointing to the school’s large English as a Second Language (ESOL) population, several parents and teachers noted that bilingual language abilities and an understanding of diverse cultural backgrounds were priorities.
“The principals who are the most effective are the principals who can communicate with the staff, the community and the parents,” said one attendee.
Precious Carter, the school’s creative and performing arts coordinator, asked that the school continue its arts magnet program. “It’s very important that we select a leader that supports that environment here,” she said.
Some addressed academic challenges on both ends of the spectrum, with parents hoping to hire an advocate of services for both academically advanced students and those behind grade level in learning objectives.
Notes from a staff meeting discussing the change in leadership showed many wished for continuity. “Maintaining current policies for management of school,” read one bullet point. “… continue and expand on work to set the culture and climate in the building to promote a safe and orderly educational environment,” read another.
So far, the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student-Organization (PTSO) has been active in the principal selection process.
“Mr. Mills … has been great at communicating with us. I only wished that a parent representative could actually interview the candidates,” said Seiji Hayashi, the vice president of the PTSO.
“… The new principal will be overwhelmed by all the pent-up needs of students, teachers and parents. There will not be enough time in the day to do it all, so he/she will need to delegate well, and prioritize … The candidates should know that this is a school ripe for transformation because the community is ready to support,” he said.
In a letter drafted to Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Prince George’s County school superintendent, the PTSO advocated for a principal whose priority is “… the academic and developmental well-being of all Hyattsville Middle students.” ESOL, arts education, and “a plan for improving student behavior, while creating a climate of respect” were also listed as priorities.
“With a visionary and dedicated Principal in place, Hyattsville Middle can become a model school for the county and the entire state: a school that sees rising academic outcomes for learners of all levels,” the letter read.