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DCPS Superintendent explains recent DHS, Midway changes

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Weston details process of moving principals, staff compensation

DINWIDDIE – While students may be in the midst of their summer vacation across Dinwiddie County, this time of year proves to be a busy one for Dinwiddie County Public Schools’ central office as almost immediately after the final graduate receives their diploma in June, school leaders are in the throws of preparing for the upcoming school year roughly a dozen weeks away.

With that work comes administrative changes both within the central office and across the school division. So far, two changes have been announced already affecting Dinwiddie High School and Midway Elementary as longtime administrator Randy Johnson will be leaving his post as principal of the high school as part of a transition to a principal position at Midway Elementary School.

That change comes as Midway Elementary’s now-former principal Penny Brooks is slated to take on a new challenge within the central office of Dinwiddie Schools as the school division’s literacy coordinator. Earlier this month, both Brooks and Johnson penned messages to parents as both began their transition to their respective positions, each expressing excitement for the new challenges ahead of them come this school year.

Following the changes, some in the community had questions regarding the shift of two principals and the impacts that could have on their respective schools. For Dinwiddie County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston, these changes were executed in a methodical way, using data and other key information to guide their decision making.

According to Weston, while the school division as a whole is doing well with plenty of bright spots in the realms of student achievement, one area they felt growth could be made was in the area of early literacy and, while other changes have been made in the past, such as increasing staff and reviewing their preschool programs, they realized more attention was needed in that area, which led school officials to utilize a federal Title I grant to provide funding for a literacy coordinator position within Dinwiddie County Public Schools who will work the elementary education director to help lead, organize, and support efforts at the preschool through Grade 2 level.

With the position funded through the U.S. Department of Education thanks to this Title I grant, Weston said attention turned to how to fill the position.

“As with any position, what we do is ask, ‘Do we have the talent? What does the person know and what can they do to do this work,’” she explained. “I always look to the inner talent first so, we started to look at the individuals in our school division to do this and Ms. Brooks’ background is in early childhood education and has an extensive background and success in that area, along with an interest in doing that work. She has also had a lot of success at Midway, and even before that, in that area.”

With Brooks agreeing to take the position within the central office, the position of principal at Midway Elementary opened up and, as Weston detailed, she put “a lot of time, thought, and prayer” into filling the position at one of the county’s top elementary schools.

“Anytime I hire, appoint, or transfer somebody, I think it sends a message about who we are, what we believe, what is important to us, and the like so, I spent a lot of time thinking about the Midway community,” she said, noting her own personal connection to that community as a resident there. “I took a long look at the success at the school, it is a school that has a long history of excellence with an established community and deep roots. It has a staff that has been there for a long time with an engaged parent and family base so, I had to ask ‘What does this school need,” which led to the decision to tap veteran administrator Johnson for the position.

Following the change, some questioned whether other elementary school-level administrators should have been afforded an opportunity to fill the position given their involvement in primary education. For Weston, the decision of selecting staff to fill this, or any opening is a complex one that takes many factors into consideration, including the personnel themselves.

“I knew I needed a veteran principal there,” she said. “That school was not a place to be used as a training ground. It was a place where I needed an established, successful principal who could go into the school and be able to, not only, honor what was happening there and also have enough experience to take the school to the next level.”

Weston elaborated, “I did what I always do, asking what talent do I have available to me within the school division? I looked at other principals that I have in the school system and three of them are just finishing their first year at the schools where they are so that would not be a good move because that would certainly put those schools at a disadvantage or be a bit disruptive to those schools. The other principals were veteran principals but, over the course of the past year, I have had different conversations with them and I know what their career goals and plans are so, I could immediately rule out a couple of them and that left me with Mr. Johnson.”

“We have a lot of talented principals and assistant principals here and any one of them could have gone to Midway and I could’ve transferred any one of them,” the superintendent explained. “But, part of my job is to be able to stand back and look at all of the parts. It is not just about who can go there, because they all can go there but, it is what is happening when I move them, and what do I need to take care of and make sure is supported. Just moving one person is not just about moving one person, it is also about what happens to the place that they left.”

With Johnson’s move from the high school to the elementary school, questions were also raised about compensation for the longtime principal as he moves from a school with a large staff and student population at Dinwiddie High School to the smaller population of Midway and how that shift translates in terms of salary.

Last week, the superintendent confirmed Johnson will be the highest-paid principal in Dinwiddie Schools, with a Freedom of Information Act request of DCPS revealing Midway’s new principal will have a salary of just under $110,000, with the next closest elementary school principal salary in the school division being nearly $15,000 less than Johnson’s most current salary, based on data as of July 1 of this year.

With that publicly available data, some have wondered what metrics or data is used to determine compensation and, according to Weston, the school division’s unified pay plan, and a person’s individual steps, which take into consideration experience and time with the school division, play a significant role in compensation.

“Within the unified pay plan, the elementary school principal is in a different grade than the high school principal, but the grade is one part of the calculation,” she said. “The other part has to do with steps. Mr. Johnson, a majority of his almost 30 years of service has been in administrative roles so his experience really lends itself to him being further along on the continuum of the steps than other elementary principals.”

Weston continued, “When you move someone, the next thing you need to look at is compensation. So I had the human resources department take his years of experience, his loyalty to the school division, and all of the things that go into the calculation, and tell me if he were to apply today to be an elementary principal, what would that salary be,” noting, based on that review, there “was a difference of about a few thousand dollars between what his pay would be if he was an elementary school principal if he had applied to do versus what he was making as a high school principal.”

“I asked the [school board] to support leaving his salary in tact,” she detailed, saying, “I approached Mr. Johnson to serve this community at the elementary level. It was not Mr. Johnson’s decision on the front-end … he certainly responded in the way I expected him to and agreed to go so, I asked the board to honor the contract he had signed and to allow him to continue with the salary he was making because that salary was reflective of the work he has done thus far and the service he continued to provide and they did honor that.”

According to Weston, the school division has received positive feedback from the community regarding their recent changes and, she noted, as of last week, they were in the process of interviewing internal and external candidates to fill the assistant principal and principal openings at the high school, with the school division expected to share their school-level administrative press release once those positions are filled.

She added the school division opted to wait until after the school year ended to announce the changes at both Midway and the high school in an effort to not distract from end-of-year activities, such as graduation to keep students front of mind, sharing the changes after the school year concluded.

At the end of the day, Weston said she wants the community to know her decisions, be it financial, personnel or in other realms, are taken seriously with careful consideration.

“I would like people to know that I take every decision I make in this role very seriously because I do understand that the decisions I make have impacts not only in this moment in time, but far reaching impacts,” she explained. “These decisions touch kids, employees, and impact the communities, along with the relationships here and the reputation of the school division so I do approach every decision in a very thoughtful manner, pulling every resource or data set, seeking the assistance of my advisers and really spend a lot of time, thought, and prayer in making decisions so when I have to make decisions, they will received in the manner in which they were made.”

Dinwiddie County Public Schools resumes classes on September 3 with both Johnson and Brooks expected to be in place in their new capacities by August.