Students returning to dozens of District schools on opening day will notice one major change: new principals. Educators such as Melissa M. Kim, Reginald Burke and Amanda Alexander are among 44 school leaders who have been hired to fill a record number of vacancies from retirements, leaves of absence, promotions, resignations and dismissals.
This year, about one-third of the principal jobs turned over -- double the number from a year ago. And, with a tightening market because of a nationwide shortage of principals, school officials said they had an added challenge finding people who could meet their higher expectations in carrying out this year's new standards and curricula.
They said they tried to avoid the mistakes of the past, such as hiring principals just days before -- or even after -- the start of the new school year.
"We placed ads in the right magazines and newspapers. We cast the net really early and we started bringing in people as soon as possible . . . so we could look at the pool," said Meria J. Carstarphen, the system's chief accountability officer. School officials said they've also hired 414 new teachers.
"I'm getting calls for next year [from candidates who] want to be in the pool," she added. "The message is getting out that the leadership is different and the vision for the kids is more focused. People are willing to come here and make a difference."
Of the new principals, 23 came from outside the system, according to Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. "We didn't have a lot of bench strength internally," he said, adding that several of the new hires came from a nationwide principal-training program called New Leaders for New Schools. "I want to change that ratio."
Hiring highly qualified principals, he added, "is one of the things we recognized here in D.C. that was significantly central to the challenge of gaining respectable student achievement scores."
One of those hired from outside the system, but one who previously was in it, is Melissa M. Kim. She attended the year-long New Leaders program and previously taught at two elementary schools in the District, serving as summer school principal at one of them. She eventually switched to the Arlington County school system, where she worked as an assistant principal for one year.
The new year, she said, will focus on improving students' math and reading skills. "We have hired a new reading and math resource teacher to target kids who scored basic or below basic" on the Stanford 9 standardized test, Kim said. She added that seventh-grade teachers will be given more planning time "to talk about student achievement issues."
Reginald Burke, who served two years as interim principal at Spingarn Senior High School in Northeast, was named permanent principal there. Burke had previously served as assistant principal at Bell Multicultural Senior High School and as principal of the now-closed Phelps Senior High School. He said he plans to establish stronger ties with area businesses that could serve as mentors and provide jobs for students in the auto body repair, cosmetology, barbering and home economics programs.
"I'm glad to finally have the permanent position," Burke said. "I think I bring a lot to the table, having been an interim here for two years." He said he feels he has a connection to the school's teachers and students, many of whom transferred from Phelps when it closed.
Like Kim, Amanda Alexander, the new principal of Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast, was hired from New Leaders after previously working both inside and outside the city. She taught at the District's Walker-Jones Elementary and worked as an administrator at Park View Elementary before spending a year in the training program.
She most recently was an assistant principal at a high-performing elementary school in New York City's Chinatown. One component of that school's success was a strong focus on teacher development, an idea she said she plans to introduce to Bunker Hill.
"We'll do a lot of reading" of books highlighting school reform, said Alexander, a doctoral candidate at American University. She said she also will add more extracurricular activities, including basketball, track and swimming. The school, she said, now offers only soccer and cheerleading.
"I want to start the conversation with teachers on what should be the priorities at Bunker Hill," she said. "I want us to establish a professional learning community where teachers come together and plan lessons and talk about teaching and learning."