Petersburg schools announced the appointment of four top administrators and a new principal Tuesday afternoon.
The new administrators each have at least 20 years of experience working in education. They all have served in central Virginia school systems, with two of them having previously spent time in Petersburg.
Division Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin said she was specifically looking for educators who had worked in Petersburg or its surrounding areas because they would better understand the context of the challenges the city’s schools face.
The new appointments are Dr. Tracie Daniels, chief academic officer; Pam Bell, executive director for student engagement; John Mayo, executive director for human resources, finance and operations; and Krystal Thompkins, director of teaching and learning. Charles Spain was hired as the new principal of Vernon Johns Middle School, a promotion from his job last year as assistant principal at Petersburg High.
Pitre-Martin touted the new administrators’ experience guiding schools to receiving and maintaining accreditation, which will be important in Petersburg: Only two of the city’s six schools meet the state’s standards for full accreditation.
“They all come with a proven track record of moving schools forward,” Pitre-Martin said. “We anticipate that they will bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences that we can definitely benefit from.”
The new hires will replace two administrators who had technically already retired and came on board to help prior Superintendent Marcus Newsome, who had already retired as head of Chesterfield County schools. The two other prior administrators will transition to new roles, Pitre-Martin said.
Daniels, the new chief academic officer, previously worked on school improvement initiatives and led the Pathway to Accreditation project in Richmond. She has taught in multiple Virginia localities, serving as a principal of accredited schools in both Henrico County and Charlottesville.
In Charlottesville, Daniels analyzed data from the Standards of Learning tests to “tailor instruction based on the needs of the students,” Pitre-Martin said. As chief academic officer, she will spearhead all initiatives related to teaching and learning, overseeing everything from curriculum to instructional and assessment practices.
Daniels will have a similar opportunity to look at Petersburg’s SOL data and match curricula and teacher development to the district’s needs. Petersburg’s pass rates on the reading, math, science and social studies SOLs are all more than 20 percentage points lower than the state average.
Bell most recently served as director of family and community engagement in Henrico County Public Schools. In Henrico, Bell led two elementary schools and one high school to full accreditation as a principal. She specializes in school programming, especially working in secondary programming to ensure students are prepared for college and careers, not just state exams, Pitre-Martin said.
“I believe that our efforts here in Petersburg will help all of our students to move the academic needle and will help them to improve socially and emotionally,” Bell said in a video alongside the district’s announcement of the hire. “I lead from the lens of a mom and a grandmother, and I think that’s very important.”
Mayo was once an assistant superintendent in Petersburg. He most recently worked in Baltimore County Public Schools as the chief human resources officer.
Mayo will be tasked with finding teachers when the city and state are experiencing a shortage. His predecessor, Dr. Lyle Evans, told The Washington Post that Petersburg has had to rely on long-term substitutes, teachers who have not fully completed preparation programs, and live-streamed classes to fill vacancies in a district so beleaguered that former Gov. Terry McAuliffe had to plead for local retired teachers to return in late 2016.
Thompkins’ 25-year teaching career began in a Petersburg elementary school. She went on to serve as the district reading coordinator in Portsmouth. Now, she’s returning to Petersburg as director of teaching and learning.
“This is a full-circle moment for me,” Thompkins said in a video. “I look forward to all of the staff, students, parents and community partners, as we work together to make Petersburg City Public Schools an awesome place to learn, thrive and grow together.”