with the chief
MANASSAS – The new superintendent is going to lead the city to what school
board members have been calling, “the next level.”
He just doesn’t know what that means yet.
Chip Zullinger said he’s still studying the schools, diligently poring
over stacks of information on the system.
“The next level,” he said, has yet to be defined, and, as a
newcomer, it is not his place to impose a plan for an already successful
Instead, Zullinger and the seven-member school board will meet for upcoming
retreat “to articulate together what that next level might be,”
In his view, though, Zullinger said, a successful school system is one
with parental and community input combined with high levels of accountability
from students and school officials.
“Those will be attributes to what school divisions moving to the
next level will be all about,” he said.
Manassas is moving in the right direction, he said.
School leaders must keep up the momentum, looking for more powerful ways
to motivate students and educate parents about the importance of the Virginia’s
Standards of Learning, he said.
Students take SOL exams in grades 3, 5 and 8, and as end-of-course tests
in high school.
Starting in 2004, high school seniors will be required to pass six SOL
tests in order to graduate. In 2007, the stakes become even higher when
schools will be required to have a 70-percent student passing rate or risk
losing their accreditation.
The responsibility to do well rests not only with students and educators,
“It needs to permeate down in the households and become everyone’s
responsibility,” he said.
Zullinger was successful reaching out to the community at his previous
districts, officials have said. But, sometimes his efforts drew ire from
the school boards, who expressed concerns about his leadership style and
claimed he took action without their knowledge or approval.Earlier in his
career as a superintendent, Zullinger was known as a mover and a shaker.
He did what he did for children, he said, which sometimes got him in trouble
with his school board.
This time, Zullinger is taking it slow.
His first day on the job was April 17. He has spent his time meeting
with department heads, visiting schools, chatting with principals and reading
up on the system.
He is coming in without an agenda and will build off of plans already
in place, he said.
“I’m going to wait to evaluate what the district’s current plans
are,” Zullinger said.
He described the role of superintendent as the chief operating officer
of a school division.
“A school superintendent needs to assist in empowering a community
to do all it can to enrich the lives of the children who live in it,”
“That ought to be a very singular agenda,” he added.
Zullinger said he wants to be a hands-on superintendent, spending the
majority of his time in the schools. At the larger school divisions he worked
at, Denver and Charleston, S.C., he wasn’t able to visit the schools as
much as would have liked, he said.
But, it’s a real possibility in Manassas, he said.
“I think if I can figure out how to accomplish that, I can be of
a lot more value to the school division than I can sitting behind this desk.”