The Washington Post

Profile: Ginger Minshew, Park View High principal

Ginger Minshew waited for Park View High School. Although she could have taken on her first job as principal at a brand new school typical of Loudoun County, she wanted an older school that had slipped behind on some measures, one that would be a challenge. She could see its potential.

Park View changed dramatically as that part of Sterling’s population changed, no longer a mostly white, affluent community. Now white students are just a quarter of the school’s population; nearly half the students are Hispanic, 15 percent are Asian, about 10 percent are black. Many are recent immigrants — 15 percent are learning English — and more than half come from low-income families.

It was that mix, all the different cultures and perspectives, that drew her to the job in 2005, Minshew said. And she wanted to be sure it was a welcoming community with high expectations.

She doesn’t talk about what she has accomplished in that time — she’s been honored as statewide principal of the year, for starters — but she loves to talk about what the school community has accomplished, and what it can do in the future. Park View was nationally recognized in 2009 among schools with large low-income populations for its recent track record of strong academic progress.

Now Park View, where many students are the first in their families to finish high school, has a graduation rate that matches the statewide average, and it boasts recent alumni on full scholarships at universities such as Princeton and Stanford.

Minshew spent years in special education classrooms, where she liked the challenge of finding the best way to help each student learn and the bond she formed with many of the children and their parents. Some of her colleagues say those qualities — enjoying a challenge, taking risks, believing in people — define her role at the high school.

She said students at Park View know they can do well because they feel the school community pulling for them. Teenagers spot insincerity right away, she added. And she is there, selling snacks at a fundraising concession stand during summer school, staffing the breakfast program in the cafeteria every morning, cheering at school events. At commencement ceremonies, she quotes from scholars and refrigerator magnets, beaming at the graduates.

At pep rallies, students have been known to chant her name.

“We as a community have really tried to help kids see beyond this building to where they can go next,” Minshew said, “and that has been one of our greatest successes.”

Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.

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