In addition to Statesboro High, where Principal Ken LeCain is retiring, and Stilson Elementary, where Principal Tanita McDowell has resigned after three years, five more schools in the Bulloch County system will have different principals next school year.
Superintendent Charles Wilson has re-assigned five of the current principals, with four to be principals of other schools and one to be an athletic director, effective July 1.
That transfer, for current Portal Middle High School Principal Patrick Hill to be Statesboro High School’s athletic director and also one of its several assistant principals, follows current SHS Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Chad Prosser’s promotion to be the new SHS principal.
“I kind of started my career over there, along with some of the elementary schools, and I’ve always held a special place in my heart for Statesboro High, and when this opportunity was put out there I was really excited to move forth and go with it,” Hill said Thursday.
He is in his 26th year as an educator, all in Bulloch County schools. During his 12 years as a teacher, Hill taught special education briefly and physical education longer, at Julia P. Bryant Elementary, Stilson Elementary and Mill Creek Elementary in succession. While teaching in these schools, Hill served as an assistant football coach at Statesboro High for eight years and was also for a couple of years an SHS assistant baseball coach. He then coached football and basketball at the old William James Middle School and was Langston Chapel Middle School’s head football coach from 2001 to 2004.
After his first administrative job as assistant principal at Julia P. Bryant Elementary, 2005-2009, Hill served as principal of Mill Creek Elementary School for seven years, until Wilson transferred him to be principal of Portal Middle High in 2016.
So Hill will have completed three years there. But he and his family live in Statesboro, and Hill had expressed interest in returning to the Statesboro schools and putting his experience with athletics to use, Wilson said.
On the phone Thursday, Hill said the move is an opportunity for new challenges at a larger school. Statesboro High has more than 1,650 students in four grades, compared to Portal Middle High’s nearly 450 students in seven grades.
“Portal’s a great, smalltown community. We have respectful, well-behaved students, hardworking staff and a community that’s committed to this school, so it’s tough to leave,” Hill said. “But again, I saw it as a really good opportunity, when it was presented, to move forward.”
Wilson and Hill both said they didn’t know whether the SHS athletic director and assistant principal job pays more or the same as being PMHS principal. Hill said his compensation is still to be determined.
PMHS and JPB
Portal Middle High School’s new principal will be Julie Blackmar, whom Wilson is transferring from her current job as Julia P. Bryant Elementary School principal.
In turn, Langston Chapel Elementary School Principal Pam Goodman will go to Julia P. Bryant Elementary as principal, succeeding Blackmar.
This change takes place while “great things are going on at Julia P.,” Wilson said, referring to JPB Elementary as one of the schools that have most successfully created a culture of continuous improvement.
“I have complete confidence that Pam Goodman will walk into that school and maintain and improve upon that very same culture,” Wilson said in Thursday’s interview.
Two schools will have interim principals for the upcoming school year. At Stilson Elementary School, Assistant Principal Leigh Baker has been named interim principal, succeeding Tanita McDowell. McDowell has been Stilson’s principal since the summer of 2016, but her resignation, effective July 1, was accepted Feb. 14 by the Board of Education as part of a list of personnel actions on a 7-1 vote. District 8 board member Maurice Hill voted “no” on the list that included McDowell’s resignation.
At this point, Baker is already serving as acting principal at Stilson, Wilson confirmed Thursday. She will be “acting principal” for now and “interim principal” from July 1 forward.
McDowell has been reassigned to projects based at the board’s central office, Wilson said.
“I have asked Mrs. McDowell to help work with us at the district level,” he said. “There are some special assignments we’re trying to get completed we need some help with, and because she’ll be leaving, I thought we do need some additional help and she can help us with that.”
Those assignments include tasks related to the literacy program and testing responsibilities, said Wilson, who mentioned the ongoing creation of a literacy bus, similar to a book mobile.
“She’s been able to step up and really give us some assistance, which we appreciate,” he said.
The newspaper’s attempt to email McDowell for an interview did not result in a response by press time.
At the time of her appointment as Stilson Elementary principal in summer 2016, McDowell had 14 years prior service as an educator, including 12 in Bulloch County. Originally Tanita Peak, she taught at Brooklet Elementary School for seven years, during which she was honored as 2010 Bulloch County Teacher of the Year, and then served as assistant principal at Langston Chapel Elementary for two years and at Statesboro High for three.
Wilson has appointed Keith Wright, who has served one year as assistant principal of Langston Chapel Middle School, to go next door as interim principal of Langston Chapel Elementary, filling the vacancy left by the transfer of Goodman.
“Keith is a rising star, along with many of our others,” Wilson said. “He has a strong skillset and interest and passion for our at-risk students as well as all other students.”
The Board of Education lets Wilson make interim assignments lasting up to one year, upgrading a vice principal to principal, for example, while the school system opens the job for applications at some point during the year.
Both Baker and Wright will have an opportunity to apply for the permanent principal position at their schools, Wilson said.
The board does not vote on the interim appointments or transfers, but did vote on Prosser’s appointment as SHS principal, with this being explained as a permanent promotion.
In addition to these moves, two current principals are trading schools. By Wilson’s decisions effective July 1, current Portal Elementary School Principal Laurie Mascolo will become principal of Mattie Lively Elementary School, and current Mattie Lively Elementary School Principal Carolyn Vasilatos will become principal of Portal Elementary School.
In a press release, Wilson attributed about the whole set of transfers to balancing schools’ needs with individual capacities and also providing opportunties for advancement.
"In my annual review of our district and school-level needs, I make an intentional effort to balance needs with leadership capacity," he said. "I also want to provide leadership opportunities for administrators and match skills with current challenges."
Wilson’s memo informing the board of administrative transfers also included seven lateral transfers of assistant principals and one transfer of a teacher to be interim instructional coordinator at a different school. Some of these moves are a matter of maintaining teams of administrators who work well together, he agreed when asked.
“It really has been very much a cohesive team effort internally with all of this, and it’s actually very encouraging to know that these principals have that much confidence,” Wilson said.
With no Board of Education motion required on the transfers, District 4 board member April Newkirk voted “no” Tuesday evening on the motion to make Prosser SHS principal.
When asked why, Newkirk indicated that her objection was not to Prosser, calling him “a great guy and well respected in our school system.” Instead, Newkirk’s vote reflected her concerns with the school system’s principal selection system, which she wants to help make more transparent and consistent, she said.
“I do not support the regular shuffling of administrators and its impacts on the selection and reassignment of administrators,” Newkirk added in her emailed response.
Wilson defended the process as “very transparent and consistent” in the phone interview Thursday.
“The process we’ve developed is the best one the district’s ever had,” he said. “Can it be approved upon? I’m sure it can be. Anything can be improved upon and will be, and we will pursue that, but in terms of the process itself, it worked as it was designed … and out of that process Chad Prosser earned his way through, and it was a fair recommendation.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.