BY SUSIE CURRIE AND PAULA MINAERT — Nearly a quarter of Prince George’s County’s 198 schools are getting new principals this year, due largely to budget cuts that led to slashed positions and staff buyouts for the new fiscal year.
In Hyattsville, Northwestern High School and Hyattsville Middle School, as well as the private Concordia Lutheran School, will have new leadership when they open this month.
NORTHWESTERN HIGH SCHOOL
At Northwestern, Jerome Thomas stepped down as principal in June following health problems earlier this year. He is now an assistant principal at Bowie High School (which is also getting a new principal).
He’s being replaced by Edgar Batenga, a High Point High School graduate who worked his way up at that school from substitute teacher to award-winning coach to assistant principal, a post he held for six years.
For the last five years, he’s been assistant principal of Columbia’s Long Reach High School, which, he said, has similar demographics to Northwestern but “around 300” fewer students.
“It was good to get the perspective of being an assistant principal in both Howard and Prince George’s counties,” he said.
In an interview during his first week on the job, he said that he’s “still gathering data” from staff and parents. Incoming PTSA president Chris Hinojosa, mother of a rising junior, said she hopes the new academic year will bring improved communication with parents.
“That aspect really suffered last year, when the parent-liaison positions were cut at the schools,” she said.
HYATTSVILLE MIDDLE SCHOOL
Kimberly Washington is taking over at Hyattsville Middle School. Originally from Portsmouth, Va., she taught in Norfolk for eight years before coming to Prince George’s County through a program called New Leaders for New Schools. The program works with large urban school districts to recruit and train principals. Washington was resident principal at Bowie High School and then served as principal in two schools in Baltimore before coming back to this county.
As a goal, Washington said, “I plan to build on the rich history of Hyattsville Middle School and to continue its level of excellence in academics and the arts.”
Some HMS parents talked with Washington in an informal meeting July 27 at the Hyattsville Busboys & Poets. HMS PTA president Errick King was there.
“We were all very impressed so far with some things the new principal is doing,” he said. “We noticed her interest in communicating with parents and she has so far been administering the school very well. She scheduled classes for this year without having to use the temporary buildings and she rearranged the lunches so they are much more organized.”
Communicating well with parents and teachers surfaced as a top priority item at a June meeting where parents and teachers discussed the attributes they hoped for in a new HMS principal.
CONCORDIA LUTHERAN SCHOOL
Incoming Concordia head Jeff Burkee moves here from Battle Creek, Nebraska, with 25 years of experience as a Lutheran principal. He replaces David Falkner, who retired in June after nine years.
The school, jointly run by Hyattsville’s Redeemer Lutheran Church and Mount Rainier’s Trinity Lutheran Church, has been at its current location on East-West Highway for decades. But, said Redeemer pastor Eric Linthicum, many people don’t know it’s there.
“We’re at the point where we need to rebrand the school and get our name out there in the community,” said Linthicum, who started in November. So he turned to a principal he’d worked with before as pastor of a church in Cincinnati. Burkee, he knew, had experience in both.
“My priority is to build enrollment and stabilize the school,” said Burkee, a father of six adult children. “People are shopping for schools differently today.”
When he started, he said, parents chose parochial schools largely because they valued the religious underpinnings. “That’s not enough anymore,” said Burkee. “Now parents say, ’That’s cool, but how are you preparing my child for the digital world?’ ”