Stephen Hockett, the principal brought in by Fairfax County Public Schools less than one year ago to help get Herndon’s McNair Elementary School back on track after three consecutive years of falling short of federal No Child Left Behind standards, will be taking a one-year leave of absence to work as an educational advisor for the U.S. Department of Education, it was announced to students’ families last week.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity for me to get a chance to work with our [nation’s] schools and to help them out, but also to learn from other great educators," said Hockett. "I will be able to use the information that I get and the skills that I learn and bring them back to McNair and Fairfax County Public Schools."
Hockett, who will leave his official post as the principal of McNair Elementary on Oct. 1 and not return until the summer of 2007, will be replaced by formerly-retired Fairfax County Public Schools principal Dr. Janet LeBel.
"We’ve worked together in the past and we share some of the same philosophical outlooks when it comes to teaching," said Hockett or his interim replacement. "It’s not like I’m walking out the door and a new person will be coming in with no assistance. We’re going to be working together to make sure she is prepared."
"She and I will be working together from now all the way until the end of October to make sure that this transition is a smooth one," he added. "We have a tremendous staff and faculty and they will all be working together with us. There shouldn’t be a hiccup."
Hockett, who will be working as an educator in residence with the Department of Education on the topic of technology, will remain a permanent employee of Fairfax County Public Schools during his leave, as the federal government reimburses the school district for his absence.
HOCKETT WAS CALLED IN to McNair Elementary from Hunter Woods Elementary School in Reston to help alleviate some of the problems that the school has had with meeting No Child Left Behind standards. The school receives federal Title I funds due to the fact that at least 40 percent of the school’s students are considered economically disadvantaged.
Two weeks after taking the job as McNair’s new principal, it was announced that the school would be required under the "school choice" sanction in No Child Left Behind to allow its students the option of being transferred to another location after it failed to make strict the rigorous standards for its third consecutive year. As a result, 112 of McNair’s then 948 students opted to transfer out to a different school.
"I was very frustrated with the Department of Education [for choosing Hockett] because he was the person that we put at McNair Elementary to turn things around and we want to keep him there," said Stu Gibson, Fairfax County Public Schools Board representative for the Hunter Mill District, of which McNair is a part. "I think it makes it more difficult for the school to go through with the plans that he [Hockett] has charted to get us back on track."
"Steve has done a phenomenal job in one short year. I hate to see that quality of leadership leave the school," said Jack Dale, Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent, adding that he hopes the experience will help him as an educator in the long run as he will get the opportunity to work alongside other renowned principals.
"I’m very confident in the leadership of the school system and I think that we’re putting in place excellent leadership in Jane LeBel," Gibson said. "But anytime you change leadership … it’s going to be a challenge."
"The test of any organization is how it responds to change and we’ve got some great people at that school," he added. "We’ll slog on through until Steve [Hockett] comes back."
"I don’t expect a setback, but in confronting the daunting task of making all of No Child Left Behind’s guidelines, and when the principal that we chose to do that for us is chosen [by the Department of Education] for a year, it makes it a lot harder."