Come July 1, there'll be a new person at the helm of Chantilly High — Jim Kacur, currently the assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Replacing Principal Tammy Turner, who's retiring at the end of this school year, Kacur got the good news last Wednesday, May 4. And the 49-year-old Vienna resident couldn't be happier.
"I was ecstatic," he said. "It doesn't get any better than this."
Born in Uniontown, Pa., as a child, Kacur was interested in engineering. "I was curious about how things work," he explained. "And as I got older, the whole idea-and-learning notion transitioned into education." Besides that, he said, "My father thought being in a service position was a noble thing to do."
After graduating from high school, he moved to Alaska. "I had a friend who went up there and worked on the Pipeline, and he had great stories [about his life and adventures there]," said Kacur. "And I've always been into the outdoors, hiking and backpacking."
Initially, he worked for a small, commuter air service in Alaska and eventually moved to Fairbanks. In 1984, he obtained a bachelors in political science, with a minor in history, from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and then worked full-time, in management, for the company.
"After a few years, I decided I had an interest in teaching and started substitute teaching in Fairbanks," said Kacur. Next came his teaching certification in 1990, plus classroom experience.
"Because of my connections with rural Alaska through the air service, a teacher in one of the villages we flew to, Anaktuvuk Pass, told me he was going on a long-term medical leave," said Kacur. "And he asked if I wanted to take his place."
So Kacur began teaching middle school and P.E., which proved successful for both him and the school. "So I continued on there, even after he came back," said Kacur. And since this 90-student school contained students in grades K-12, he said, "It was a great experience. I really got immersed in it."
Meanwhile, romance had also blossomed for him. In Fairbanks, he met the woman who would later become his wife. She was doing her undergraduate work at Sam Houston State University in Texas, and they met while she was home, visiting her family in Alaska. Things got serious and, in 1990, Kacur joined her in Houston.
Marie went on to law school at the University of Houston and is now an attorney in Fairfax County. The couple has two sons, Sean, 9, and Ryan, 6, who attend Colvin Run Elementary.
In Houston, Kacur taught U.S. History in middle school, was an assistant principal of an intermediate school and a ninth-grade school and principal of a middle school. Later moving to Virginia, from August 2000 to August 2003, he was assistant principal at Marshall High in Falls Church.
Since then, he's been the assistant principal at Jefferson, which he called a terrific opportunity for him. "I'm very interested in technology, and there's a tremendous amount of technology here at this school," he said. "And it's been a great learning experience for me." Calling T.J. a wonderful place to see a unique way of operating a school, Kacur said, "I hope to be able to use some of these things, where appropriate, to enhance my next opportunity at Chantilly."
After the school system advertised Turner's job, he decided to apply. "Chantilly is a great school, and I've always been interested in a high-school principalship," he explained. "I felt that, by this time in my career in Fairfax County, I had the name recognition and deeds commensurate with that position."
But besides being a good move for his own professional growth and development, Kacur said he believes it's a good fit. "I'm pleased that I got this job, and I'm glad I'm going to Chantilly," he said. "I met the faculty on Friday, and I shared with them that I knew Chantilly was a wonderful school. And I knew that, if I was selected, it would be a great opportunity."
In addition to being warmly welcomed by his new school, he said, "I've gotten great responses from others outside Chantilly, telling me what a wonderful school it is and how happy they are that I'm going there. And hearing about all the great individual and group accomplishments there, it's very rewarding to know I'm going to be part of that community."
Regarding his philosophy of leadership, Kacur believes "it all starts with the students, and our commitment to excellence has to be based on our commitment to kids. When I spoke with the faculty the other day, I spoke about the importance of relationship building, and relationships with my faculty and community will be a major focus for me, initially."
Like other local principals whose schools have large enrollments, Kacur hopes to make Chantilly seem smaller, and he sees relationship building as a way to connect with the students. As a result, he said, they'll "feel like there are one-on-one relationships and somebody they can go to that's looking out for them and supporting them."
Of course, academics are also a top priority. Said Kacur: "With Chantilly's academic reputation, I know the pieces are there to move forward with these challenges to make sure we're meeting the needs of every child in the building."
In addition, as a community of faculty, staff and parents working with the school, Kacur plans for Chantilly to look at where it's headed. "I have plenty of vision for the school and experience in education, but I don't have any intention of orchestrating a great change without knowing that my school community is ready for it," he said. "So I'll get to know people there to learn where we need to go in terms of the next steps to grow the vision of Chantilly High School."
So far, he's been pleased with what he's seen there. He returned again Monday to walk around the school with some of the administrators. "Everybody's been welcoming and positive, and I am really looking forward to working with everyone there," said Kacur. He said he'll also have a nice transition period with Turner on hand until July 1.
"I was a middle-school principal in Texas for two years and, although this is different, the job is still the job," he said. "I feel I'm well-equipped to do it. I'm ready to get back to it and am excited about it."
As for parents, Kacur said his door is always open: "I'm very receptive to parents' input and I know I won't be successful without their involvement in the school."
In his spare time, he enjoys landscape gardening at his home and camping, fishing and hiking with his sons. He also coaches soccer and basketball for a league in Great Falls and is a Cub Scout den leader for his older son's pack. The family also likes traveling and returns to Alaska every year to visit Marie's relatives.
So what do Chantilly parents think about their new principal? PTSA President Marilyn Perry met him for the first time, Friday, and had a favorable impression. "Several of the PTSA board members were there, and we were very pleased to meet him," she said. "We liked what he had to say, and we look forward to working with him, beginning in July. We're looking forward to the future and a great year — and years to come."