Fairfax County school administrators are considering replacing the principal of Groveton High School as a way of facilitating the merger of Groveton and nearby Fort Hunt High, School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier said yesterday.
"I know it's under discussion," said Collier. She added that if Superintendent William J. Burkholder recommended such a move, it would be to ensure a smooth consolidation of the schools and would not reflect on the performance of Principal Paul G. Douglas.
Burkholder was not available for comment yesterday, but his spokeswoman, Dolores Bohen, said that Douglas' job was not in question and that reports of a possible transfer, which have been common for several days in the community, had come as a surprise to Burkholder and to Doris Torrice, superintendent of the Area I section where Groveton is located.
Community sources say some people in the Fort Hunt area are upset with Douglas and wish to see him transferred because he was so pro-Groveton during the recent dispute over which of the two schools would be closed. However, Douglas is a popular principal whose supporters credit him with bringing a new spirit and pride to the school.
The School Board voted 6 to 4 last Thursday to close Fort Hunt High, convert it to an intermediate school and merge the school's 1,269 students into Groveton starting this fall with the incoming ninth-graders.
Douglas, 49, who has been principal at Groveton nearly two years, said yesterday that he had not been approached by school officials but that he would ask for a transfer to another county school if it were determined that his presence is a stumbling block to the smooth mixing of the schools.
He said he was aware of "hot and heavy" rumors that his job could be in jeopardy, a possibility he addressed in a meeting Monday with Groveton faculty and members of the Student Parent Teacher Association.
"It is fair to say there is dissatisfaction in some parts of the Fort Hunt community with Paul's visibility, and the fact that he was seen as a Groveton partisan," said Robert H. Smith, one of three chairmen of a Groveton support group. "But, I frankly don't see how the principal of a school threatened with closing can be anything other than partisan."
Peter Brinitzer, head of the Neighborhood Schools Coalition of the Fort Hunt Area, said yesterday his board met for 5 1/2 hours Saturday and did not discuss the removal of Douglas.
"We don't know how good he is or how bad he is," said Brinitzer. We have no exposure to him, except we know him as a very active and partisan speaker from the Groveton community."
Reports that Douglas might be leaving have upset many in the Groveton community, where he has enthusiastic supporters.
"To my mind, Paul Douglas would be the perfect person to oversee the transition from a small school to a large school, so we certainly hope the rumors we hear are not true," said Grant Harris, former president of the Groveton Parent Teacher Association.
"I honestly feel he is too fantastic to lose . . . . " said Jean Freeman, mother of a Groveton sophomore. "I feel he has given to students at Groveton the self-worth . . . the little extra they needed to have confidence."
Douglas said yesterday it was his job this winter, as principal of Groveton, to root for his school. "But, it's a new ball game now," he said, adding that he is ready to lead an entirely new school, with a new name, new mascot and new priorities.
"Obviously, I'd prefer to stay," he said. "But, I care more about this community than . . . the ego thing of pulling it off. I think the issues are too important."