Looking for a Leader: The search for a new principal begins

On November 11, members of the Cedar Shoals community gathered to begin the search for a new principal. 

Former Cedar Shoals Principal Derrick Maxwell announced his resignation in an email to the Cedar community on Thursday, October 17. He accepted a district-level position in a neighboring school district. He officially left his post twelve days later, leaving Tony Dericotte and Aaron Carter to be co-interim principals. 

Two meetings in the blue-lit Cedar Shoals cafeteria marked the beginning of the search for a new principal. The first hosted Cedar staff and the second welcomed students and members of the school community. 

“[The meeting] allows them to provide feedback for the process. They get to tell us what’s important to them, and we share that with the hiring committees. Then we have a meeting after the staff meeting with the community and we just do the exact same thing over,” said Lynn Duke, the Chief Human Resources Officer of Clarke County School District. 

Both the parent and community meetings had the same structure. First, the attendees discussed specific characteristics for a new principal that hold importance to them. The staff and parent priorities included the ability to connect with all students, cooperate with teachers effectively, and support programs at Cedar like Peer Leadership and Restorative Justice. 

Then Dr. Duke passed out a sheet of paper with eight Leadership Standards for Highly-Effective Principals. Attendees worked together to prioritize the eight standards. Duke considers the “Instructional Leader” standard to be a priority.

THE PROCESS BEGINS: Teachers attending the staff meeting work together to prioritize the eight leadership standards. This process has been used in other schools around the county to find and hire a new principal. “This is what we do every time we hire a principal, we let the community know the process and how they can be involved,” said Lynn Duke. Photo by Jackie Wright.

“[Instructional Leader] means someone that can make sure teachers are teaching our curriculum every day. And they’re teaching it in a way that is engaging and that is received by students and that is moving our students forward,” said Duke. 

Jennifer Schmidt, a ninth grade math teacher, emphasized the importance of community cooperation. 

“As a teacher, it’s very important that we are providing our students with the best possible education that they can get. But we need our community to be a part of this process. We need our community and our parents to help and support us on this,” said Schmidt.

Through the beginning of November, members of the community applied to join the hiring committee and work with the Local School Governance Team (LSGT). There is an LSGT for each school in Clarke County that consists of members of that school’s community. Members work to improve their schools by participating in hiring processes and developing initiatives such as the restorative justice system. 

Members of the community will form a new hiring committee to work in cooperation with the current Cedar Shoals LSGT. The next step after forming the committee is screening the candidates. The date has not yet been determined, but the committee will spend a full day researching each principal candidate. By the end, they will decide which candidates to interview. 

The first round of interviews will take place soon after the screening. The hiring committee performs the interviews and asks questions partly based on what was discussed at the meetings on November 11. Interviewers will look for traits that match what the staff and community said they want in a principal. 

The second round of interviews has a different structure. Candidates will visit different rooms and work through different simulations of situations that may arise in a school day. The hiring committee continues to look for traits that were prioritized by community members and staff. By the end of the second round of interviews, the committee chooses one candidate. 

After the committee decides who is most appropriate for the school, that candidate is recommended to the Board of Education to be approved. In order to be approved, the candidate must hold a Georgia Leadership Certification of L-5 or higher, have served two or more years as an assistant principal and three years of classroom teaching, and, according to the job description, have “demonstrated experience in comprehensive school improvement and directing work associated with a standards based learning environment.” Because of the demand for this job in the middle of the school year, there is a $5,000 signing bonus. 

The hiring process has been successful in the past, however, it also has the potential to last a long time. 

“If there is a viable candidate then we’ll proceed with interviewing and hoping that we can get someone approved to the board, you know as soon as possible. Earliest case it would be January at this point. But we have told the staff here that there is the possibility of having an interim for the remainder of the school year,” said Duke. 

Cat Mills, the Cedar Shoals Media Specialist, expressed some concern regarding this transition. 

“My concern is that we might be in limbo for a while. [The search] puts a halt on a lot of things. We’re having to wait on applying for LSGT grants, for summer reading, and for other things, because we don’t know who to go to. We have some ideas now, but it has slowed down processes that we were already working on,” said Ms. Mills. 

Despite these potential challenges, Mills has high hopes for Cedar’s new principal. 

“Cedar has value, and we see it, and some of the community sees it. But the way that we measure it is not necessarily how the rest of the community measures it. I would love to see a principal that somehow found a way to help bring about a change in attitude about who we are and what we’re about,” said Ms. Mills.