Loudoun County school officials have not hired a director for the county's new biotechnology magnet program, which is scheduled to enroll its first students next September.
Officials had hoped to fill the position this spring or summer. Assistant Superintendent Sharon D. Ackerman said that at least 10 people were interviewed in June but that no one was the perfect match.
"We're looking to do some exciting things in this academy," Ackerman said. "It's worth doing right."
Another round of interviews is planned for October, she said.
The magnet program could enroll as many as 250 students, who will travel from their home schools to an empty wing of Dominion High School in Sterling on alternating days for intensive classes and laboratory work in one of science's fastest-growing fields.
The county is putting the program together with the close cooperation -- and hefty financial contributions -- of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which is building a $500 million research campus near the school.
Ackerman said the qualifications for the director's job are not the same as for another high school principal. The ideal candidate should have real world experience in science and lab work and a proven administrative record that shows he or she can organize and inspire teachers, she said. The candidate also must be skilled in public relations because school officials envision the director being in close contact with local businesses to raise funds for the program and set up mentoring opportunities for students.
"We need a scientist, a teacher, an administrator and a PR guy all in one," said Dominion Principal W. John Brewer. "It's tough to deliver."
Brewer, who will share his campus and work closely with the new director, has been sitting in on some interviews.
The Hughes institute has promised to donate at least $1 million a year to the Loudoun school system for scholarships, the magnet program and a program to bring sophisticated new experiments into middle school classrooms. The institute has also agreed to pay the director's salary for a year.
A Hughes official who sat in on the recent interviews said he appreciated that Loudoun decision makers were not rushing to hire someone who might not be able to live up to the dreams for the program.
"[The candidates] were very nice, but they were just not quite right," said Peter Bruns, vice president of grants and special programs. "I'm gratified that they didn't take the best person of the people they had if none of them were exactly what they wanted."
Part of the problem, Bruns said, is that Loudoun officials have been advertising the position in places usually targeting educators in search of a job. He said the right candidate is probably happily employed and not looking for a new job -- yet. The Hughes institute can help, he said, by connecting Loudoun with candidates nationwide who might be a better match.
"They're a little more used to dealing with Loudoun or Virginia," he said. "We're used to dealing nationally and internationally."
Bruns said he had several candidates in mind, including one he thinks could be perfect. "If they can leave where they are, we'll be all set," he said.
Ackerman said the ability to tap into the Hughes network of programs and scholars is one of the most valuable aspects of the new partnership. "When we talk about the kinds of people we want, they know of people. They're getting the word out," she said.
She acknowledged, however, that someone needs to be hired soon, to ensure that the program can be started next year. Other county educators have started discussing the program's curriculum, and some officials are talking about starting with only 11th-graders to build the concept step by step.
"We'll do this in the way we do things in Loudoun County. We won't bite off more than we can chew," Ackerman said.