In Fairfax, Garza announces new support team at Stuart High amid low staff morale

Acknowledging concerns among parents, Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Karen Garza announced a new support team at the troubled Stuart High School, where a vast majority of staff in a survey described the leadership as ineffective.

In a letter sent to Stuart parents and teachers, Garza wrote that she had received notes from the community expressing “your thoughts and opinions.” Garza wrote: “I want you to know that I have listened deeply to the issues you presented.”

According to the 2014 Fairfax County schools working conditions survey, only a quarter of teachers and staff rated the Stuart leadership as effective. Among Fairfax high schools, on average more than 75 percent of teachers and staff said the administration was effective.

Garza announced that former McLean High School principal Deborah Jackson would join the Stuart faculty as a “mentor/coach” for the school’s administrative team, led by Principal Prosperanta Calhoun. Garza also wrote that 2014 assistant principal of the year Shawn DeRose would leave his post at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to return to his former assistant principal position at Stuart.

Garza wrote that Stuart would also receive additional support from the central administration’s human resources department to fill vacancies quickly and that Shannon Tully, a retired director of student services, would help craft the 2014-2015 teacher class schedule at Stuart.

“These individuals and this support into the Stuart community will enhance the talented staff that is already in place and will enable us to move forward in a positive way,” Garza wrote June 13.

Earlier this month, Assistant Superintendent Douglas Tyson, who oversees Stuart, located in Falls Church, wrote a letter to parents and staff outlining the school’s successes during the past year.

Tyson’s letter, sent June 9, was in response to an article by Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews, who wrote about Stuart’s declining test scores and teachers leaving to find jobs at other schools.

Mathews quoted former Stuart math department chair Stu Singer, calling the dismantling of successful remediation programs at the school as “education malpractice that can only be described as unconscionable.”

“A recent article in The Washington Post unfortunately reinforced a number of negative stereotypes about the school which has caused a great deal of concern within the community,” Tyson wrote. “We should be celebrating the achievements of Stuart’s students, not disparaging them.”

The school’s performance on the 2013 SAT posted the highest gains in the entire school system, Tyson wrote, with the critical reading average rising by 23 points. The school’s composite scores on the English, math and reading portions of the ACT also increased in 2013, Tyson wrote. Participation in advanced classes, including International Baccalaureate courses, had also increased, he wrote.

Tyson wrote that “FCPS is fully committed, from the superintendent through the ranks, in support of the administrative team at Stuart High School.” He wrote later in the letter that “We believe in the school’s leadership team.”

Tyson acknowledged publicly for the first time, however, that former South Lakes principal Bruce Butler had served as a mentor to Calhoun for several months during this school year. Butler, who retired from South Lakes High in 2012, was not listed as a staff member on the school’s Web site this year.

Reached by phone in late May, Butler declined to comment about his role at Stuart, which Butler described as not being a publicized position.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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