Sunset Park Elementary gears up to select new principal

Former Sunset Park Elementary Principal Janet Bittick was tapped to serve as the new principal of Eccleston Elementary.

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  • | 11:32 a.m. January 22, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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HORIZON WEST  Sunset Park Elementary is set to name its new principal soon.

Students, teachers and parents said goodbye to former principal Janet Bittick on Friday, Jan. 18 — her last day at the school due to being tapped as the new principal for Eccleston Elementary. Bittick will replace Eccleston’s former principal, Dr. Julie Helton, who will be helping open a new elementary school as principal.

Orange County Public Schools officials hosted a meeting for Sunset Park parents on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to gather input on what they would like to see in a new principal.

James Larsen, OCPS area superintendent for the Southwest Learning Community, told parents that the district has applicants both in Orange County and in neighboring counties who want to come to Sunset Park.

“We don't like to make moves in January: It’s not the most optimal plan, but when you open new schools we need principals to open those schools,” he said. “…You can’t do that over summer, so it requires us to pull out middle- and elementary-school principals in January.”

Larsen and Rhonda Hunt, executive area director for the Southwest Learning Community, explained the hiring process to those in attendance.

A position is advertised for five to 10 days, during which all eligible principals and assistant principals receive an email notification. The area superintendent and executive area director then meet with school staff and parents to record qualities they are hoping for in a candidate. These qualities are then turned into a rubric.

The next step is for the area superintendent to match resumes received to find the candidates who best fit the requirements. Interested sitting principals have priority, followed by assistant principals. Interviews are conducted by the area superintendent, who then chooses the top few candidates to the deputy superintendent. The deputy superintendent will then select his or her top candidate(s) to interview with Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins, who selects the final candidate and submits his or her name to the school board.

At any point during the process, Jenkins may select a candidate who she feels best fits the need of the school, thus ending the process.

During the meeting, Larsen explained that the timeline is “truncated and quick.” Interviews were planned for Thursday, and the goal is to name Sunset Park’s new principal by the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 22. The new principal would then be introduced the following Wednesday morning.

Many Sunset Park parents said they hoped their new principal would be encouraging of and strong with collaboration. The staff, they said, is comprised of top-notch teachers who are performing well and a “shake up” of sorts would be detrimental to that flow.

The ideal candidate, Sunset Park parents said, would value communication, bring consistency to that which the school already does well, be open minded to structures currently in place, be student-centered and personable or charismatic

Other important things parents said they hope the new principal will have are appreciation and support for the arts and gifted programs; openness to social and emotional support; and ability to budget appropriately.

“I would say they’re looking for a teammate to join their team, not someone to shake everything up,” said PTO President Jennifer Grunenwald. “The teachers are strong, they know what they're doing and we obviously have a good school. We need a principal that’s open to having an open campus. We have people in and out all the time that want to be here and help in the classrooms and odd events and be involved in their school.”

Larsen promised parents that he would put the right person in for this job, and the person could very well be either a first-year principal or a sitting principal. 

“We have the luxury with Sunset Park that I do have resumes from sitting principals,” he said. “That doesn't always happen.…that’s just rare this time of year. …The goal is, who’s going to develop a culturally responsive climate on this campus that will continue to drive the high academic performance?”


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