Woodson principal announces retirement


W.T. Woodson Principal Jeff Yost shown in 2011. (Astrid Riecken/ For The Washington Post)

The principal of Fairfax County’s W.T. Woodson High School announced Monday that he will retire at the end of September.

Jeff Yost, who has served as principal at Woodson for the past seven years, wrote a message to parents Monday that “with mixed emotions,” he would leave the school less than a month after students return in the fall.

Six of the school’s students have died from apparent suicides in the past three years.

“It has been a honor and privilege for me to serve as your principal,” Yost wrote. “I take with me lasting friendships with students, staff and families. Thank you all for all you do to make Woodson a special place.”

In late April, Fairfax County administrators announced that a new mental health support team would join the faculty, among them Dan Meier, who retired last year as Robinson Secondary principal. Meier will stay on as acting principal after Yost retires and lead the transition as the administration seeks a permanent replacement.

The support team, which included psychologists and administrators with a background in counseling, was part of a larger effort by the school system to identify struggling teens at Woodson and promote outreach and suicide prevention programs.

Six Woodson students in the past three years died from apparent suicides, including two underclassmen who died a day apart. The deaths sent the Woodson community reeling, searching for solace and answers from the administration. Parents lobbied the school system’s leadership to make more resources available to Woodson. Others pushed quietly for a change in the Woodson front office.

In an earlier interview with The Post, Yost defended the school’s response to the suicides.

“Every school has this issue,” Yost said. “Every school has to go about fixing it.”

On Monday, Yost did not respond to a request for comment.

School Board member Megan McLaughlin, whose Braddock district includes Woodson, said that Yost will be missed by parents and students.

“As a W.T. Woodson parent, I have deeply appreciated Principal Yost’s thoughtful and caring leadership,” said McLaughlin, whose son was a 2014 graduate. “His warmth and accessibility to students aptly earned him the nickname ‘Papa Yost.’ He has always had our community’s best interests at heart.”

In a letter announcing his retirement, Yost alluded to the student deaths and how they had affected the school community.

“We have laughed together and cried together but this is a job I would not have traded for any other,” Yost wrote. “I truly feel that I was supposed to be here during these times of highs and lows and to support and celebrate with our students.”

Among students, Yost was popular and known for his milk and cookie socials with the teenagers.

“The Woodson community has touched me very deeply,” Yost wrote.“I will miss all of you very much.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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