The two high schools in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, West Potomac and Mount Vernon, have new principals this fall.

Paula Johnson, 49, is only the fourth principal to head the 50-year-old Mount Vernon High School, at 8515 Old Mount Vernon Rd. A few miles away, Stephen Wareham, 48, becomes the second principal of West Potomac High School, at 6500 Quander Rd. West Potomac was created when Fort Hunt and Groveton high schools were merged in 1985.

"Steve Wareham and Paula Johnson are highly experienced and have outstanding leadership skills," said Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane.

"I know the staffs, students and communities of the two schools will be pleased with these excellent administrative appointments," Spillane added.

Wareham, who will receive $59,386 annually, has a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in secondary school administration from the University of Virginia.

After serving two years in the Army, his entire career has been with the county's schools. From 1963 to 1967, Wareham taught English and history at Mark Twain Intermediate School in the Springfield area.

For the next 11 years and from 1983 until this July 1, he was assistant principal at Herndon Intermediate School. From 1978 to 1983, he was assistant principal of South Lakes High School in Reston.

"I'm a straight shooter. I enjoy working with people and basically I always say that I'm reasonable," Wareham said last week. He is married and has two children, ages 22 and 18.

"I always explain the rationale for my actions. I base my decisions on reasonableness and I always use my kids as my guide. I say if this was my son or my daughter, how would I feel about this decision," Wareham said.

Wareham succeeds Paul Douglas, who resigned to become a high school principal in Orange County, Va. He will head a student body of nearly 2,000 and a staff of about 120.

"What disturbs me most in education today is the consumption of alcohol by young people and the tragedies that occur from that," Wareham said. "In the schools I've worked in, we've had far more alcohol-related problems than drug problems."

As an administrator, Wareham said he believes in the team concept. "I will include the staff in my decisions," he pledged. "I realize I'm ultimately responsible for the decisions made."

Johnson, who will receive $53,449 a year, has worked in the county's schools since 1979. She is married and has four children, ranging in age from 23 to 28.

She has a bachelor's degree in social studies from Ladycliff College in New York, a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Boston University, and a doctorate in educational administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Johnson has taught at schools in Vicksburg, Miss.; Fort Hood, Tex.; West Germany, and at Hayfield and Edison high schools in Fairfax County.

She was an administrative aide at Groveton High School in 1983-84, and from 1984 to 1986 she was assistant principal of Mount Vernon High School. In 1986-87 she was coordinator of instructional services for Area 1 of the county schools.

"I really want to look at ways to improve communication with the {seven-school} Mount Vernon pyramid and to really work on the communication within the building and within the community," Johnson said. Mount Vernon has about 1,700 students and 130 teachers and administrative staff.

"I believe strongly in participatory management," she added. "I know there are some decisions that only the principal can make . . . . If people have a part in the decision, they will usually buy into the process."

She said she is concerned that too many responsibilities that belong within the family have become the jobs of teachers and administrators.

"We spend an awful lot of time as administrators today dealing with disciplinary problems, and it would be nice if we could spend more time on the instructional side," Johnson said.

Johnson succeeds Thomas Hyer, who retired as principal of Mount Vernon High School after 14 years.